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Any additional funds will also be used to further expand the research into ferret coronaviruses.
A novel coronavirus of ferrets was first described in 1993. This ferret enteric coronavirus (FRECV) caused an enteric disease called epizootic catarrhal enteritis (ECE). Recently, a ferret systemic coronavirus (FRSCV)-associated disease was discovered. This new systemic disease resembles the dry form of feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) and has been reported in the United States and Europe. While the morbidity for ECE approaches 100%, the overall mortality rate is low (<5%). In contrast, FIP-like disease occurs much less commonly than ECE, but most ferrets that develop clinical disease will ultimately die or have to be euthanized. Accurate diagnosis of ECE and FIP-like disease remains a major challenge. Clinical signs of coronavirus associated disease are often non-specific, the ubiquitous nature of ferret coronaviruses makes it difficult to determine their role as causative agent of disease in individual animals and differentiation of FRSCV from FRECV in clinical samples is often not possible.
Coronavirus infections in cats, ferrets and mink are initiated in the small intestine. The clinical disease picture of these enteric infections is typically mild. However, in a significant percentage of infected animals, these enteric coronaviruses persist. During this persistence, genetic changes can lead to altered virulence
Extensive sequence comparison of feline enteric coronavirus and systemic FIP strains has led to the discovery of several genetic differences between these strains. While mink enteric coronavirus has also been sequenced, no complete sequence data are available for FRECV, FRSCV and systemic mink coronavirus. Limited sequencing of FRSCV and FRECV by our laboratory has already enabled us to identify a few mutations that are associated with altered virulence. Our goal is to sequence the entire genomes of ferret enteric and systemic coronavirus and also the genome of mink systemic coronavirus, in function of defining whether the “molecular signatures” associated with FIP strains are also present in the systemic ferret and mink coronavirus strains.
Detailed knowledge of the entire sequences of the ferret and mink coronaviruses will be the basis for better understanding of sequence patterns associated with systemic disease. This will allow us to develop specific diagnostic testing to accurately identify the different coronaviruses and ultimately to make progress toward the worldwide prevention of these very serious diseases.