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New European expert Advisory Board to
recommend management guidelines on
feline infectious diseases in Europe

The formation of a new seventeen-member expert European Advisory Board on Cat Diseases (ABCD) has been announced as the sub-optimal vaccination rates among cats raise concerns among experts at the health risks that this poses to the estimated 60 million cats in Europe. Research among more than 30,000 cat owners from five European countries indicates that almost six out of ten owners of young cats have not had their cat vaccinated, 30% of owners of adult cats have never had their cat vaccinated and less than half have it revaccinated regularly.

During the recent Foot-and-Mouth disease outbreaks in Europe, the burning pyres of cattle carcasses caused a public outcry in favour of vaccination. Yet surprisingly, in the field of companion animals, the opposite is happening and pet owners are often contesting the need for vaccination.

Professor Marian Horzinek, Chairman of the newly-formed ABCD says, ‘Vaccination has become a victim of its own success. The significant benefits of vaccination are becoming difficult to see, as diseases are well controlled and therefore rarely encountered. An essential role of the ABCD is to help raise public awareness of infectious disease prevention and control in cats, through promoting vaccination as a vital part of responsible cat ownership.’

‘With over 60 million cats now in households across Europe there is a clear need for evidence-based guidance in prevention and management of the major feline infectious diseases, including vaccination protocols, choice of vaccines as well as the avoidance of over-vaccination,’ added Professor Horzinek.

The members of the Advisory Board are veterinarians from ten European countries, with expertise in immunology, vaccinology and/or feline infectious diseases. They intend to compile guidelines for the prevention and management of major feline infectious diseases in Europe, based on current scientific knowledge including panleukopenia, rabies, feline leukaemia, upper respiratory tract disease and the recently observed cases of avian influenza in cats.

Also known as the ‘Think Tank on Feline Diseases’ the Board will also consider individually tailored vaccination programmes to be discussed at the cat’s annual health check used to evaluate its individual risk. Professor Horzinek said, ‘A vaccination protocol should be based on a rational decision made by veterinarians and cat owners, not dictated by information gathered from the internet.’

‘Although the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) has already developed recommendations of this nature, significant differences in disease incidence, strain virulence, epidemiology, available vaccines, cat populations and lifestyles are seen in Europe. Importantly, these will be reflected in the considerations of the ABCD,’ said Dr Jean-Christophe Thibault, Merial’s Scientific and Technical Manager for Biologicals Europe, who was actively involved in the creation of ABCD. The animal health care company Merial is committed to supporting the ongoing activities of the Board.

‘We expect to finalise the guidelines covering the major infectious diseases in cats by 2008.
As a group of scientists, we take pride in our independence. We are very grateful to Merial whose support makes the meetings possible,’ says Professor Horzinek.

The ABCD will meet three times a year and aim to discuss one to two major feline infectious diseases at each meeting. This spring, the Board met in Barcelona to formulate vaccination guidelines for feline panleukopenia. It also set up a task force, which looked at the risks and management of H5N1 avian influenza transmission to cats.

The guidelines resulting from this are due to be released.