Feline immunodeficiency virus, also known as FIV is very similar to the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. Both cause a disease called AIDS. Neither virus is highly contagious. There is no proven vaccine for either disease (a vaccine for FIV exists, but experts do not agree that it is effective). Both viruses damage the immune systems of affected individuals, leading to increased rates of opportunistic infections and certain types of cancer. Untreated, both viruses lead to death several years after infection.
HIV patients, thank goodness, may benefit from anti-viral therapies that can stop the virus from reproducing and prevent the development of AIDS. These therapies have saved the lives of millions of people who have access to them (sadly, other millions of infected individuals do not).
Cats, however, do not tolerate some of the anti-viral therapies that have helped so many people. Other anti-viral therapies do not inhibit FIV. Therefore, there is no effective treatment for feline AIDS.
But that may change in the future. The North American Veterinary Conference’s May, 2008 Clinician’s Brief details a study (original paper: Savarino, Pistello, D’Ostillo, et al. Retrovirology 4:79, 2007) that describes a new class of anti-viral drugs.
The drugs, called INSTIs, inhibit FIV grown in cultures.
This is an important step forward, but it is a long way from an effective treatment for feline AIDS. The drugs have yet to be tested on infected cats.
Meanwhile, cats with AIDS must live without effective treatment.
FIV is transmitted mainly by fighting. The most effective way to prevent the disease is to keep cats inside. FIV cannot spread to humans, and cats cannot catch HIV.