Feline coronavirus (FCoV) infects members of the Felidae family with results ranging from seroconversion with no disease to fatal feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). Infection of non-domestic felids with FCoV is of concern, particularly in endangered populations such as cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus). In this investigation, we tested 342 animals in the Republic of South Africa and Namibia, including 140 animals from wild populations, for evidence of FCoV infection by serology and/or reverse transcription/nested polymerase chain reaction (RT/nPCR) on feces from 1999 through 2001. Past or current infection was evaluated. Of these, 195 animals had evidence of infection and included 41 animals from wild populations. Serology (indirect immunofluorescence) did not always correlate with viral RNA detection, as seronegative animals were occasionally virus-positive, while many seropositive animals were not shedding virus. Serology indicated the infecting virus was most closely related to type I FCoV. Antibody levels in the majority of animals were low, even in those actively infected. Ten of 48 animals tested at more than one time point by RT/nPCR were shedding virus at multiple time points possibly indicating persistent infection. Infection in free-ranging animals was also notable, as over a quarter of the free-ranging animals tested had evidence of current or previous FCoV infection. Testing by serology and RT/nPCR is recommended for screening for FCoV infection.
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Vol. 39 • No. 3