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Parasitol Res. 2003 Dec;91(6):467-70. Epub 2003 Oct 14.

Evidence of horizontal transmission of feline leukemia virus by the cat flea ( Ctenocephalides felis).

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Institute for Zoomorphology, Cell Biology and Parasitology, Heinrich-Heine University, 40225, Düsseldorf, Germany.


The feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is a naturally occurring and widespread retrovirus among domestic cats. The virus is mainly transmitted horizontally through saliva, blood and other body fluids by close contact between cats. Vectors other than cats, e.g. blood-sucking parasites, have not been reported. This study tested the vector potential of the cat flea ( Ctenocephalides felis) for FeLV. In a first feeding, fleas were fed for 24 h with blood from a FeLV-infected cat with persistent viremia. FeLV could be detected in the fleas, as well as in their feces. Fleas were then divided in two populations and fed in a second feeding for 5 h or 24 h with non-infected non-viremic blood. FeLV was again detected in the fleas and their feces. In addition, the two resulting blood samples of the second feeding were subsequently tested for FeLV and both samples were positive for FeLV RNA. The cat flea transmitted the FeLV from one blood sample to another. In a third feeding, the same populations of fleas were fed again with non-infected blood for 5 h or 24 h. This time FeLV was not detected in the fleas, or in the feces or blood samples. Results show that cat fleas are potential vectors for FeLV RNA in vitro and probably also in vivo.

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