The identification of feline herpesvirus (FHV) infected cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) and characterization of shedding episodes is difficult due to nonspecific clinical signs and limitations of diagnostic tests. The goals of this study were to develop a case definition for clinical FHV and describe the distribution of signs. Medical records from six different zoologic institutions were reviewed to identify cheetahs with diagnostic test results confirming FHV. Published literature, expert opinion, and results of a multiple correspondence analysis (MCA) were used to develop a clinical case definition based on 69 episodes in FHV laboratory confirmed (LC) cheetahs. Four groups of signs were identified in the MCA: general ocular signs, serious ocular lesions, respiratory disease, and cutaneous lesions. Ocular disease occurred with respiratory signs alone, with skin lesions alone, and with both respiratory signs and skin lesions. Groups that did not occur together were respiratory signs and skin lesions. The resulting case definition included 1) LC cheetahs; and 2) clinically compatible (CC) cheetahs that exhibited a minimum of 7 day's duration of the clinical sign groupings identified in the MCA or the presence of corneal ulcers or keratitis that occurred alone or in concert with other ocular signs and skin lesions. Exclusion criteria were applied. Application of the case definition to the study population identified an additional 78 clinical episodes, which represented 58 CC cheetahs. In total, 28.8% (93/322) of the population was identified as LC or CC. The distribution of identified clinical signs was similar across LC and CC cheetahs. Corneal ulcers and/or keratitis, and skin lesions were more frequently reported in severe episodes; in mild episodes, there were significantly more cheetahs with ocular-only or respiratory-only disease. Our results provide a better understanding of the clinical presentation of FHV, while presenting a standardized case definition that can both contribute to earlier diagnoses and be used for population-level studies.
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