An outbreak of a deadly cat virus is spreading on the Hawaiian island of Maui and has officials concerned about the island's cat population. As far as experts can tell, it is the first time the disease has been found in the state.
Eight cases of feline panleukopenia virus have been confirmed since May, Dr. Miyo Miyasaki-Kim told The Huffington Post. Miyasaki-Kim is the director of veterinary services at the Maui Humane Society. However, she said there are likely more unreported cases.
Panleukopenia, which is often referred to as feline distemper, is a highly contagious and deadly virus that attacks a cat's blood cells. Kittens are particularly susceptible, but unvaccinated adult cats are also at risk for contracting the disease. Because of how quickly it can spread, the virus -- which has long-existed on the mainland and throughout the world -- can quickly develop to an epidemic level.
When the first case was reported by a private vet in a rural area of Maui, there was a possibility of containing the virus, according to Miyasaki-Kim. "We were hoping to contain it with a massive vaccine campaign," she said. But with the most recent case on July 8 in a highly populated area of central Maui, "there is no way to contain it at this point."
Hawaii's strict policy on importing pets and its animal quarantine policy is the likely reason why the virus has not been diagnosed before.
"We're thinking this is pretty new. In 35 years of practice and 18 years at the shelter, I have not seen the virus before," she said. Miyasaki-Kim also consulted with other veterinarians on Maui and with the Hawaiian Humane Society in Honolulu, all of whom concurred they have not diagnosed the virus before.
Panleukopenia is a particuarly hearty virus, which is why vaccinations are strongly encouraged. "The virus can survive up to a year or more, " Miyasaki-Kim said. "You could be carrying it into your home on your shoes. It's not worth taking a chance [by not vaccinating]."
The good news -- if there is any good news about a deadly virus -- is that the vaccine is considered highly effective. As part of an emergency response to quickly vaccinate area cats, the Maui Humane Society will hold its last of three vaccination clinics on Saturday. So far, more than 280 cats received the vaccine during the clinics.
However, Miyasaki-Kim said the best thing to is to take your cat to a veterinarian where a physical exam, along with any vaccinations needed, can be administered. The panleukopenia vaccine is included in the standard core vaccine an animal would receive as part of regular veterinary care.
Even if you don't live in Hawaii, this is a great reminder for everyone to take your furry friends to a veterinarian for an annual check-up.