Epidemiology of Feline Herpes Virus (FHV) Infection in a Population of Captive South African Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus)
1Wildlife Disease Laboratories, San Diego Zoo's Institute for Conservation Research, Escondido, CA, USA; 2Veterinary Services, San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, Escondido, CA, USA; 3Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD, USA; 4White Oak Conservation Center, Yulee, FL, USA
Feline herpes virus (FHV) is a viral infection endemic in captive cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus). While some cheetahs acquire a self-limiting rhinitis and chronic epiphora, others appear to be especially vulnerable to disease and can experience severe and persistent clinical signs or conditions, including keratitis, corneal ulcers, conjunctivitis, uveitis, blindness, cutaneous ulcers, or pneumonia.1-3 Acute infection has necessitated the euthanasia of several animals,3 which further impedes breeding efforts and impacts captive population sustainability. To better understand the epidemiology of FHV in cheetahs, medical records from cheetahs at six different institutions were examined over a several year period to identify confirmed cases and those with clinical signs consistent with FHV. Disease incidence and population level infection characteristics were summarized. Cox proportional hazards regression models were fit to the data to identify demographic and management factors associated with FHV. Forty percent (61/154) of cheetahs in the population acquired infection during the study period and 21% (32/154) had severe clinical signs. The majority of FHV cases (57%; 35/61) occurred when cubs were less than 4 mo of age. Among cheetahs with positive dams, hand-rearing was protective against FHV infection. Among cheetahs without positive dams, having a FHV-positive littermate was identified as an important risk factor for disease, suggesting that littermate status may serve as an indicator for identifying asymptomatic carrier dams. These results highlight the importance of FHV as a limiting factor in the health of captive cheetah populations and provide insight as to how to improve disease management efforts in cheetahs.
The authors would like to thank the Morris Animal Foundation for funding this study, and all participating institutions and personnel for the contribution of data. Specifically, we thank Dr. Michael Barrie and Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Dr. Holly Haefele and Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, Dr. Suzan Murray and Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Dr. Randy Junge and St. Louis Zoo, and White Oak Conservation Center.
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