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C2004-48

Dear Christopher Cat

Can cats transmit the leukemia virus to people?

Christopher Responds

No. Neither the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) nor the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) has ever been shown to infect humans.

FeLV and FIV are retroviruses, a class of viruses that are quite species-specific. On rare occasions, cross-species transmission of retroviruses has occurred, but only in closely related species (e.g., one primate species to another.)

One study tested the blood of 204 veterinarians and others routinely exposed to cats for evidence of FeLV or FIV. The study participants had been bitten and scratched multiple times every year for an average of 17 years.

The researchers found no FeLV or FIV virus particles or antibodies in their blood.

Still, it may be prudent for people with suppressed immune systems to adopt cats like me, who are free of both viruses. FeLV and FIV can suppress a cat’s immune system, increasing susceptibility to diseases which might then be transmitted to an immunosuppressed human.

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