MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: can house pets get aids

Date: Sun Dec 14 23:20:34 2003
Posted By: Ingrid Dodge, Postdoctoral Fellow
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 1068858161.Zo

Hi Kristen-

This is a very important question. Before I can answer it, though, I need to tell you a little bit about AIDS, what it is, and how it works. First, let's define what AIDS stands for: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. What this means, literally, is a problem that is not genetic (so it's called acquired), where the immune system doesn't work any more. So, in fact, there are lots of acquired immune deficiency syndromes, but the term AIDS has now become linked with the virus that causes AIDS in humans, HIV (which stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus).

So first I'll answer the question: Can house pets get infected with HIV? The answer to this question is no, and it's because of how viruses work. In order for a virus to get into a cell to infect it, the virus needs to stick to the cell it's trying to infect. Viruses stick to cells by means of special proteins on their surface, called receptors. The receptors of a virus are somewhat specific, binding to only certain types of cells. Some viruses have receptors that will stick to cells of different species (think of the West Nile Virus, which can infect both birds and people), while some viruses are more specific. HIV is a relatively specific virus - it will only infect human cells under normal circumstances. In fact, even to get HIV to infect monkey cells (which are very similar to human cells) you have to alter the virus a bit (1).

So then there's the next question: Are there viruses that infect housepets that cause a version of acquired immune deficiency syndrome? The answer to this is yes. In cats, there are two viruses, FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) and FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus), that cause acquired immunodeficiency (2-5). Cats that go outdoors are typically immunized against FeLV. In dogs, I could find only one report of a retrovirally-based immunodeficiency (6). Dogs do get a virus called parvovirus, which can attack white blood cells (the immune cells), but it's more of an intestinally-based disease. You can read more about pet diseases at this American Vet Association website.

Thanks again for your question and I hope this helps!

1)Science. 1999 Apr 30;284(5415):816-9. Distinct pathogenic sequela in rhesus macaques infected with CCR5 or CXCR4 utilizing SHIVs. Harouse JM, Gettie A, Tan RC, Blanchard J, Cheng-Mayer C.
2)Microbiol Immunol. 2003;47(10):765-73. Ability of CD8(+) T cell anti- feline immunodeficiency virus activity correlated with peripheral CD4(+) T cell counts and plasma viremia. Hohdatsu T, Yamazaki A, Yamada M, Kusuhara H, Kaneshima T, Koyama H.
3)J Vet Sci. 2000 Dec;1(2):97-103. Evaluation of expression patterns of feline CD28 and CTLA-4 in feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)-infected and FIV antigen-induced PBMC. Choi IS, Yoo HS, Collisson EW.
4)Drug Alcohol Depend. 2003 Nov 24;72(2):141-9. Escalating morphine exposures followed by withdrawal in feline immunodeficiency virus- infected cats: a model for HIV infection in chronic opiate abusers. Barr MC, Huitron-Resendiz S, Sanchez-Alavez M, Henriksen SJ, Phillips TR.
5)J Immunol Methods. 2003 Aug;279(1-2):69-78. Development of antibodies to feline IFN-gamma as tools to elucidate the cellular immune responses to FeLV. Graham EM, Jarrett O, Flynn JN.
6)J Comp Pathol. 1995 Feb;112(2):165-83. Retrovirus-like activity in an immunosuppressed dog: pathological and immunological findings. Modiano JF, Getzy DM, Akol KG, Van Winkle TJ, Cockerell GL.

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