What is Mad Itch Virus Infection?
Mad itch virus wreaks havoc on the nervous system of an infected cat. There is a three to six-day incubation period from exposure to the showing of symptoms. The attack is both neurological and respiratory. Often, intense itching to the point of injury is seen with this virus. Mad itch virus is highly fatal, with the majority of cats dying within two days of symptoms arriving. The disease exists throughout the world, though Canada, Greenland, Australia and the entirety of Africa are free of the virus. The United States has eradicated the virus in farm animals, but not in wild boar.
Mad itch virus, also known as pseudorabies or Aujeszky’s Disease, is a fatal disease caused by a herpesvirus. Many mammals can contract the disease, although the only primary hosts are swine. The virus can exists around farms, though wild boar and other feral swine also pose a risk in spreading this virus. It is referred to as pseudorabies because the symptoms often mimic the first stages of rabies.
Symptoms of Mad Itch Virus Infection in Cats
It may be hard to note symptoms, as cats usually try to run away in the first stages of the virus. If your cat is an indoor pet, you may see the following symptoms:
- Vigorous itching of the head and neck
- Changes in behavior
- Head pressing
- Head tilting
- Shortness of breath
- Uncoordinated gait
- Muscle atrophy
- Complete paralysis
Causes of Mad Itch Virus Infection in Cats
This virus is not believed to be spread from cat to cat. Interaction with infected swine is needed to be exposed to the virus. Causes of exposure include:
- Ingesting raw pork meat that is infected
- Ingesting rodents that have eaten infected pork meat
- Ingesting pig or wild boar carcass that is infected
Diagnosis of Mad Itch Virus Infection in Cats
If you are able to get your cat to the veterinarian at the onset of any symptoms, the vet will perform a complete physical examination on the cat. The medical history will need to be obtained, and the vet will ask about any possible exposure to pigs in the recent past. All symptoms that are present in the cat will be compared with common signs of mad itch virus. A primary way to rule out rabies as a possible cause is to note if the cat is aggressive at all. Rabies leads to aggression whereas mad itch virus does not. Also, if your cat is up to date with its rabies shots, then it generally is immune to rabies.
Full blood work will be requested, including a complete blood count and a biochemical profile. If possible, a test will be performed to measure the antibodies that have developed in response to the virus. Often, diagnosis happens post-mortem (after death) because of the fast-acting nature of the virus. A necropsy may be collected at this time, including tissue from the brain, spleen or tonsils to confirm a diagnosis of mad itch virus.
Treatment of Mad Itch Virus Infection in Cats
There is currently no cure available for mad itch virus. Supportive care to attempt to keep the cat comfortable and relieve suffering may be offered if the cat is brought to a clinic or hospital in time. Most cats die from the virus within 48 hours of it manifesting. A small number do survive, but it is only due to their own immune system being strong enough to withstand the virus.
Recovery of Mad Itch Virus Infection in Cats
Generally, the only way to manage this virus is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Keep your cat indoors, or at least prevent it roaming around forests and farms. Do not feed your cat raw pork. Any cat that is allowed to hunt and is in an affected country can contract this virus.
While the virus does not commonly spread from cat to human, extra caution should be used in handling an infected cat. Wash and disinfect hands after touching the cat. Disinfect all food bowls and litter boxes. In the rare case that the cat does survive this virus, it will be immune to it for the rest of its life.