Feline leprosy due to Candidatus ‘Mycobacterium lepraefelis’: Further clinical and molecular characterisation of eight previously reported cases and an additional 30 cases

O’Brien et al. (2017). Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery 19 (9)
Small Animals
Objectives: This paper, the last in a series of three on ‘feline leprosy’, provides a detailed description of disease referable to the previously unnamed species, Candidatus ‘Mycobacterium lepraefelis’, a close relative of the human pathogens Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis. Methods: Cases were sourced retrospectively and prospectively for this observational study, describing clinical, geographical and molecular microbiological data for cats definitively diagnosed with Candidatus ‘M lepraefelis’ infection. Results: A total of 145 cases of feline leprosy were scrutinised; 114 ‘new’ cases were sourced from the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL) records, veterinary pathology laboratories or veterinarians, and 31 cases were derived from six published studies. Thirty-eight cats were definitively diagnosed with Candidatus ‘M lepraefelis’ infection. Typically, cats tended to be middle-aged or older when first infected, with a male predilection. Affected cats typically had widespread cutaneous lesions, in some cases after initially localised disease. Advanced cases were often systemically unwell. All cats had outdoor access. The histological picture was lepromatous in the majority of patients, although two cases had tuberculoid disease. In one case that underwent necropsy, lesions were evident in the liver, spleen and lungs. Treatment was varied, although most cats received a combination of oral clarithromycin and rifampicin. Prognosis for recovery was variable, but typically poor. Conclusions and relevance: Candidatus ‘M lepraefelis’ typically causes high bacterial index (lepromatous) feline leprosy that in some cases progresses to systemic mycobacteriosis. The disease has a variable clinical course and prognosis. Many cases either died or were euthanased due to the infection. Multilocus sequence analysis reveals a heterogeneous picture and further analysis of draft genome sequencing may give clues to the taxonomy and epidemiology of this organism. Prospective treatment trials and/or additional drug susceptibility testing in specialised systems would further inform treatment recommendations. Comparative aspects: This paper finishes with a discussion of comparative aspects of infection caused by the three feline leproid disease agents that have been the subject of this series: Candidatus ’Mycobacterium tarwinense’, Mycobacterium lepraemurium and Candidatus ‘M lepraefelis’.
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