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Papovavirus - An Update

Author: Anne Dray

From Issue 38 Jul 2001

As editor I get to see articles first so am in the privileged position of being able to respond to articles quickly! So I thought it would be helpful if I could reply immediately to some of the points in Joanna Roach's letter to the Journal.

I also thought it would be worthwhile updating readers on the latest position re Papova virus which I have tried to do in the past through my BHA Secretary's notes. Despite asking for information on other cases I have had literally nothing first hand to help me understand the extent of this disease across the country.

The first reported incidence of skin tumours believed to be caused by Papova Virus but never proven, despite lab tests of lumps and blood samples, was in Wendy Palmer's hamstery in the West Country. Around 60 animals were eventually thought to be affected and were put down. At a show in April 2000 two exhibitors' animals were found to have similar lumps. One of these was Susan Washbrook and the other exhibitor had obtained stock from Susan. Only very old links could be established between Susan's and Wendy's stock i.e. a number of years so it was not at all obvious that the cases were connected. The next known cases were in some stock dispersed from a Hamstery in Rotherham - a few were ones that I gave a home to (- luckily kept separate from my main stock, as I had isolated those because one had been to Wendy's for mating 3 months before the problem in her hamstery was identified). This was in a female which I had rehomed 3 months earlier and which was on a small litter of babies. In my case I was lucky - the lab results came back naming the lumps as Tricoepitheliomas - normally caused by Papova Virus. I kept the babies and this stock has been kept isolated, fed by my husband, not handled much and cleaned out in a barrier nursing type of way. After 5 months one of the babies had a few lumps on her chin which disappeared. At this stage 6 of the isolated group including mom and the baby with lumps were taken for blood tests. The result from the analysis in Germany - Papova Virus.

7 months on, the original female at the age of 2 and covered with pea sized lumps, went for further tests on her lumps to help in this study. One of the other babies developed lumps on the chin - possibly infected whilst at the vets for the blood test.

We have been reliant on the goodwill of an expert veterinary dermatologist for the lab work (including in Germany) on Susans and my animals and we have both spent a lot on vets fees for samples to be taken. I can see why some people have not been able to afford to get such lab tests done.

What is a concern is that another breeder who had obtained lab reports on 3 or 4 animals was not told of the possible connection with Papova Virus. This is a problem as the tumours caused by the virus are by themselves of a benign nature so unless the connection with a virus which could spread the disease through a colony is made, people could be inadvertantly spreading the disease through their own and potentially others' stock.

Early symptoms are small wart-like lumps under the chin, or granular lumps which can be felt under the scruff. Sometimes the chin warts disappear, sometimes they grow rapidly to the size of marbles with other lumps appearing on the belly and the animal dies. As far as I know the under skin lumps do not regress and lead to general lumps over the animal and usually accompanied in time by the chin warts. Not all animals in a colony catch the disease, not all die, the symptoms on some regress.

It is possible that the symptoms we are seeing could be the result of a variant of the "normal" Papova Virus. The virus is apparently spread in the urine and infected litter or handling infected animals can pass on the virus to other stock. We await the final report from the specialist undertaking the research before we will have the full picture. The virus is not infectious to other species. As long as people with infected animals wash with an appropriate anti viral disinfectant after handling affected stock then they pose no danger to others.

Clubs will have to make decisions about hygiene arrangements and infection control at shows and I think that clubs should consider a general approach which will stop say a similar disease affecting Russians or Chinese.