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Virus forces Fairfax shelter to euthanize all cats

Tuesday - 7/26/2011, 3:09pm  ET

Update: The Fairfax County Animal Shelter is reopen to cat adoptions. The first 100 adopted felines will get free spay or neutering services.

WASHINGTON - All cats at the Fairfax County Animal Shelter have been euthanized after officials say a highly contagious and harmful virus spread within the facility's feline population.

The virus is thought to be a virulent strain of Calicivirus, which causes upper respiratory distress and has proved to be immune to vaccine and antibiotics at the shelter. Officials think cats brought to the shelter in mid-June were infected with the virus, and it soon spread.

Officials initially euthanized only sick and exposed cats, but made the decision to euthanize all cats in the shelter when the infections did not abate. The decision was based upon national shelter medical protocols, officials say.

The Fairfax County Police Department, which runs the shelter, says humans and dogs are not affected by the virus, but dogs can carry it on their coat and spread it to cats. Symptoms of the virus include a rapid onset of lethargy, sneezing, discharge from the eyes and mouth sores.

Officials completed the euthanizations last night and are in the process of cleaning the shelter. Cat adoptions at the facility have been suspended until further notice.

WTOP's Hank Silverberg contributed to this report. Follow Hank and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)