Kokua Line

By June Watanabe

Sunday, November 4, 2001

Cat owners who let pets
outside risk feline AIDS

Question: We had to put our 10-year-old family cat to sleep because of feline AIDS. He had been fixed years ago, but if a strange cat came on our property he would fight it off. That tells me that feline AIDS is rampant in some areas, especially near military housing. I'd like to know, with the extensive quarantine program that Hawaii has, how did the AIDS virus get in?

Answer: The state's animal quarantine law is aimed at preventing rabies from getting into the state.

It is focused on "the human health concern for rabies. It's not looking for any other diseases," explained veterinarian Manuel G. Himenes, of the Oahu Equine Veterinary Clinic and a treasurer with the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association.

Also, since feline AIDS, which can be found worldwide, is "already established in the state, there is no reason to take extraordinary precautions for a disease that's already here," said state veterinarian James Foppoli.

The virus that affects cats was named FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) because of its similarity to the HIV virus, and the disease it induces is known as FAIDS (feline acquired immune deficiency syndrome). However, HIV does not infect cats, and FIV does not infect humans. A cat cannot catch AIDS from a human or vice versa.

No one knows exactly when and how the virus was introduced to Hawaii.

It probably was brought here by an infected cat from the mainland and very likely one who was quarantined, said veterinarian Sue Sylvester, co-owner of The Cat Clinic in Kapahulu. "However, having said that, the FIV virus was probably around for a long time before we actually identified it and understood what it was."

FIV wasn't isolated and described until 1986, in California, and subsequently found to be established throughout the world.

One problem, Himenes said, is that the virus is hard to detect until a cat begins showing clinical signs.

The virus is transmitted via cat bites and wounds. It is not sexually or casually transmitted, Sylvester said.

There haven't been any local studies or surveys done on the prevalence of FIV in the state. Individual veterinary clinics probably have a sense of its scope in their own neighborhoods, Sylvester said, but "to my knowledge, no one's ever looked at it from a geographical standpoint."

"It's not a huge problem, but it's out there," Himenes said.

From what her clinic has seen, Sylvester said about 10 to 15 percent, and possibly 20 percent, of the "outside cats" -- the ones who have a history of fights and bite wounds -- tested have the virus.

As far as cat owners in any neighborhood who have a cat that goes outside, "their cat is at risk," she said. "What I hear a lot is, 'My cat never leaves my yard,'" she said. But that's not a certainty. "Or someone else's cat comes in."

Regarding large groups of feral cats found on the island, "Most feral cat caretakers are extremely responsible and they will test and remove cats that have FIV virus," she said, so "It's not out there really rampant."

There is no vaccine for FIV/FAIDS. The only way to protect cats from getting infected is to "keep them inside," Sylvester said.

Q: On TV and in the newspapers, I see members of the Department of Health's Vector Control spraying neighborhoods with insecticide. I am concerned about the larger picture. What is being done about large bodies of stagnant water, like Kawainui Marsh, Enchanted Lake and Kaelepulu Stream, which are prime mosquito breeding areas? There are many homeowners living next to those bodies of water. How will they be protected?

A: The good news is that the Asian tiger mosquito that's being blamed for the dengue fever outbreak in Hawaii is picky about where it breeds.

"They like the cleaner water," such as that found "in tree holes, rock holes, containers around the home, tires, kids' toys, under the shade," said Norman Sato, a vector control supervisor. "The Asian tiger mosquito does not breed in large bodies of stagnant water."

Q: If you are turning left from the left lane on mauka-bound Pauoa Road onto Kanealii Avenue, a plain green signal is shown. However, makai-bound motorists on Pauoa Road are held to a stop by a red light. Motorists turning onto Kanealii Avenue should have a green arrow in addition to the green light to signal that they do not have to yield to the makai-bound Pauoa Road traffic. Those unfamiliar with the area often wait for oncoming traffic to proceed, not knowing they have the right of way to turn left. Can you help?

A: A green arrow will be installed by Nov. 15.

The city Department of Transportation Services checked the intersection. Of the two lanes of Pauoa Road going mauka, the right is a mandatory right turn, while the other allows motorists to go right, left or straight.

"In cases where all forward movements are permitted, we do not in general install directional traffic signal arrows," because that may confuse drivers in that lane or in adjacent lanes without those movements, said DTS director Cheryl Soon.

However, because more left turns than right are made from that lane and "having no pedestrian conflicts," DTS will add a left-turn arrow to the green light "to clearly convey the right of way."

DTS will review its effects then decide whether the change will be made permanent.

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