The possibility of the transmission of feline leukaemia virus (FeLV) from latently infected cats was studied. Five female cats with latent infections were examined for evidence of transmission of the virus to their kittens. One of the cats infected members of four consecutive litters of kittens which subsequently became persistently viraemic and transmitted the virus to other susceptible kittens by contact. Shortly after birth its kittens were apparently FeLV-free since neither viral antigen nor infectious virus was detected in their blood and no virus was found in cell cultures made from aspirates of bone marrow. The kittens became viraemic from 45 days of age onwards at a time when their passively acquired colostral FeLV neutralising antibodies were no longer detectable. Transmission of the virus occurred via the milk since both FeLV antigen and infectious virus were found in milk samples taken six weeks after kittening and the virus was transmitted to a fostered kitten. Eleven weeks after the birth of the fourth litter the cat became viraemic. The intermittent presence of FeLV antigens detected by the Leukassay F test, but not infectious virus, in the plasma of this cat over the previous months and a low level of serum neutralising antibodies distinguished it from four other latently infected queens which did not transmit infection to their kittens. These factors may indicate a risk of milk transmission and reactivation of latent virus.
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