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FIV-Positive Cats Could Be the Key to Curing HIV

The Feline Immunodeficiency Virus was discovered by a person named Niels Pederson, together with Davis and Yanet Yamamoto way back in 1986 in a study in a cattery in California. Everything started with a woman who was taking in strays and housing them together in large kennels. Then, she started noticing that the cats that shared the same pen with one particular feral cat started getting sick and dying. Bewildered, the woman contacted Pederson, who then took DNA samples from the feline in question and studied them under an electron microscope.

Later, it was found that a retrovirus—specifically a lentivirus, same as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV—was causing the cats to become ill. They initially called it the Feline T-lymphotropic virus because it attacked immune cells known as T-lymphocytes in cats. However, after seeing how similar the virus is to HIV, they changed it to FIV. Because of these similarities, studying how FIV affects FIV-positive cats could possibly be the key to finding a cure for HIV.


Similarities Between FIV and HIV

  1. Virus Family

Like we mentioned earlier, FIV and HIV are both in the retrovirus family, further classified as lentiviruses. Lenti, meaning slow, since both are slow-acting viruses that have the ability to lie dormant, or in waiting, inside their host for many years. Those infected may experience recurring flare-ups between their “healthy” days, until such time that their immune system becomes so damaged that it can no longer fight off infections on its own. In this stage, the disease is called AIDS.


  1. Process of Infection

Since both viruses are in the retrovirus family, they both have the ability to replicate and multiply on their own as long as they’re inside a host. They do this by entering their hosts’ cells and then tricking these cells into creating more copies of the virus, damaging and killing the cells in the process. In the case of FIV and HIV, they do this to T-cells, which are the body’s first line of defense against diseases and infections. Without these cells, the body is vulnerable to all kinds of pathogens.

  1. Transmission

Both FIV and HIV are mainly spread through bodily fluids, such as saliva, blood, and sexual secretions. That’s why FIV is most commonly transmitted through deep bite wounds, and sometimes through intercourse. However, since FIV almost immediately dies once outside the body, sharing of food bowls, grooming, and general cat-to-cat contact isn’t a concern. In terms of saliva, the same goes for HIV. There are low levels of the virus in saliva and it’s more commonly spread through sexual contact and blood. Additionally, both viruses can be transmitted from mother to offspring across the placenta, but that rarely happens in FIV-positive mother cats.


  1. Symptoms

HIV and FIV infection both initially manifest in the form of a fever, followed by swelling of the lymph nodes, weight loss, weakness or fatigue, loss of appetite, and diarrhea. Symptoms of both HIV and FIV infection are also classified into three stages: the acute stage, where mild symptoms appear, the latent stage, where the symptoms disappear and the virus lies dormant in the body, and the third stage, also known as AIDS, where the immune system completely loses the ability to defend against diseases.


How Can FIV Possibly Help to Find a Cure for HIV?

FIV-Positive Cats Could Be the Key to Curing HIVScientists, namely Akram Alian and Dr. Meytal Galilee, from the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa have now taken a closer look upon the 3-D structure of a specific protein that’s found in both the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus or FIV and the Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV. The researchers believe that their findings could be the key to finally defeating the drug-resistant HIV-1.

“Alian and Dr. Galilee focused on a protein called reverse transcriptase”, which is present in both FIV and HIV. This protein enables the viruses to transfer copies of their RNA genome into DNA, which is then implanted into the genetic material present inside the host’s cells, causing the cells to make more copies of the virus.

Now, many people with HIV are able to live normal, healthy lives because of antiretroviral drugs that essentially block reverse transcriptase and prevent the virus from replicating. But, since FIV is resistant to reverse transcriptase inhibitors, the scientists were initially afraid that HIV may soon develop the same resistance.

However, their recent findings provided them with the knowledge on how to counteract the event, should it ever happen. They found that the reason why FIV is resistant to reverse transcriptase inhibitors is because it has a “closed pocket” that prevents these drugs from binding to it.

According the Medical News Today, “They say that their findings may not only lead to new treatments for FIV, but they could pave the way for future HIV treatments, too.”