More feline control in Italy after cat contracts rare rabies-like virus, bites owners

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Public officials in the central Italian commune of Arezzo called on Wednesday for better surveillance of the feline population after a housecat contracted a rare rabies-like virus and began biting its owners.

Mayor Alessandro Ghinelli told a press conference that a new ordinance calls for cat owners and carers of feral cat colonies to immediately report any symptoms that could point to the so-called "lyssavirus".


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The virus related to rabies has only been identified once before in 2002 in a bat in the Caucasus region.

It is unknown how the female two-year-old cat in the Tuscan municipality contracted the virus. Last month, the cat's owners reported that their pet had suddenly become aggressive and bit three members of the family. Concerned, they took her to a veterinarian, where she also attacked the vet.

"You could see that she was suffering but she wouldn't allow you to approach her, she basically had symptoms compatible with rabies," said veterinarian Paolo Barneschi, as quoted in Repubblica daily on Tuesday.

The cat died after being transferred to another clinic, where specialists had suspected a neurological problem. The virus was identified after part of the cat's brain was sent to an animal health institute in Padua.

Thirteen people who had handled the cat, including those bitten, have been administered an antibody treatment.

The new ordinance, in place until August 27, calls for any cats or dogs which have recently bitten people and who display suspicious symptoms such as biting, paralysis, or changes in temperament, must be put under quarantine for 10 days.

"The case of the kitten affected by lyssavirus certainly concerns us," Ghinelli said, calling the new law "necessary preventative measures aimed at safeguarding and protecting public health".

Health authorities are currently looking at whether a colony of bats living in a tree near the family's home may have been the source of the virus.

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