Snow leopards (Uncia uncia) develop papillomavirus (PV) lesions in the mouth and on the skin.6,9 Skin lesions develop on the forelimbs, neck and face and occur as dark black, slightly thickened, irregular, raised areas, 2–15 mm in diameter , which cannot be scrapped off.6 Oral lesions are raised, pale pink plaques, often confluent, 1–100 mm on the edge of the tongue or around the frenulum. Histopathology and immunohistochemistry (IHC) are confirmatory.6 Transformation of lesions to squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) can take up to 9 yr.6 Early diagnosis of SSC is difficult but once confirmed, the prognosis is poor, since metastasis is common.6
Snow leopards should be examined opportunistically (ideally annually) for evidence of papillomas or SCC.6 Lesions must be excised surgically as laser surgery, cautery and/or cryosurgery cause the PVs to seed surrounding tissues.2 Non-healing wounds on the forelegs, neck or head, and oral swellings should be biopsied to rule out SCC.6 Raised thickened pigmented skin lesions that are easily scraped off, leaving an ulcer, should increase one’s suspicion of the possibility of an early SCC.6
A snow leopard oral papillomavirus (UuPV1)7 vaccine has been produced using previously described methods.3-5,8 Vaccination safety testing in domestic cats is underway.
Using previously described methods,1,4,5,8,10 the UuPV1-virus-like particles produced in this process, were used as immunologic reagents to detect anti-UuPV1 antibodies, and hence determine the seroprevalence of papillomavirus infection in captive North American snow leopards. Both UuPV1 seropositive snow leopards with lesions and others with no history of having lesions have been identified.
This work was supported by grants from the: Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) National Leadership
Planning Grant, LG-54-09-0068-09, Morris Animal Foundation Grant, Chicago Zoological Society Conservation and Research Grant, Woodland Park Zoological Gardens Conservation Grant and Western University of Health Sciences Student Intramural Funding Grants. The authors wish to thank the following: All of the veterinarians at institutions holding snow leopards who have supplied us with copies of their medical records, serum samples and biopsy specimens; Histology Consulting Services, Inc. (HCS) for histopathology slide preparation; For reviewing medical records: Brett Grossman, Diane Hazel Go Tang, Elizabeth Kamaka, Beth Davidow, Valerie Kendall, Janet Cometa, Sungmin Diana Lee, and Charli Dong; For their help and support: Karl Hill, Jay Tetzloff, David Kersey, Todd C. Mockler, Colleen Lynch and Lynn Tupa.
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