Origin of abdominal or thoracic effusions in cats with wet FIP and causes of their persistence during treatment

Niels C. Pedersen, DVM, PhD
Pet Health Center
University of California, Davis

Original article: Origin of abdominal or thoracic effusions in cats with wet FIP and reasons for their persistence during treatment

Origin of FIP exudates. Sweat in wet FIP comes from small vessels (venules) that line the surface of the abdominal and thoracic organs (visceral) and walls (parietal), mesentery / mediastinum, and omentum. The spaces around these vessels contain a specific type of macrophages that come from monocyte progenitors that constantly recirculate between the bloodstream, the interstitial spaces around the venules, the afferent lymph, the regional lymph nodes, and back into the bloodstream. Other sites of this recirculation are located in the meninges, brain ependyma, and uveal eye tract. A small proportion of these monocytes develop into immature macrophages (monocyte / macrophage) and eventually into resident macrophages. Macrophages are constantly looking for infections.

FIPV is caused by a mutation in feline enteric coronavirus (FECV) present in lymphoid tissues and lymph nodes in the lower intestine. The mutation changes FECV cell tropism from enterocytes to peritoneal-type macrophages. Monocytes / macrophages appear to be the first cell type to be infected. This infection causes more monocytes to leave the bloodstream and begin to turn into macrophages, which continue the cycle of infection. [2]. Monocytes / macrophages do not undergo programmed cell death as usually expected, but continue to mature into large virus-loaded macrophages. These large macrophages eventually undergo programmed cell death (apoptosis) and release large amounts of virus, which then infects new monocytes / macrophages. [1]. Infected monocytes / macrophages and macrophages produce several substances (cytokines) that mediate the intensity of inflammation (disease) and immunity (resistance). [1,2].

Inflammation associated with FIP leads to three types of changes in the venules. The first is loss of vascular wall integrity, micro-bleeding, and leakage of plasma protein rich in activated complement clotting and activation factors and other inflammatory proteins. The second type of damage involves thrombosis and blocking blood flow. The third injury occurs in more chronic cases and involves fibrosis (scarring) around the blood vessels. Variations in these three events determine the amount and composition of exudates according to the four Starling forces that determine the movement of fluids between the bloodstream and interstitial spaces. [3].

The classic effusion in wet FIP is mainly due to acute damage to the vessel walls and leakage of plasma into the interstitial spaces and finally into the body cavities. Protein that escapes into the interstitial spaces attracts additional fluids, which can be exacerbated by blocking venous blood flow and increasing capillary pressure. This type of effusion, known as exudate, also contains high levels of protein, which is involved in inflammation, immune responses and blood clotting.

This fluid also contains a large number of neutrophils, macrophages / monocytes, macrophages, eosinophils and a lower number of lymphocytes and red blood cells. This classic type of fluid has the consistency of egg white and forms weak clots containing a high amount of bilirubin. Bilirubin does not originate from liver disease, but rather from the destruction of red blood cells that escape into interstitial tissue cells and are taken up by monocytes / macrophages and macrophages. Red blood cells break down and hemoglobin is broken down into heme and globin. Globin is further metabolized to biliverdin (greenish color) and finally to bilirubin (yellowish color), which is then excreted by the liver. However, cats lack the enzymes used for conjugation and are therefore ineffective in removing bilirubin from the body. [4]. This leads to the accumulation of bilirubin in the bloodstream and gives the effusion a yellow tinge. The darker the yellow tint, the more bilirubin is in the effusion, the more severe the initiating inflammatory response and the more severe the resulting bilirubinemia, bilirubinuria and jaundice.

The opposite extreme of the classic and more acute effusion in FIP are effusions arising mainly from chronic infections and blockage of venous blood flow and consequent increase in capillary pressure. High capillary pressure results in effusion that is more distant to interstitial fluid than plasma, has a lower protein content, is watery rather than sticky, clear or slightly yellow in color, is not prone to clotting, and has a lower number of acute inflammatory cells such as neutrophils. There are also FIP effusions that are among these extremes, depending on the relative degree of acute inflammation and chronic fibrosis. These transient types of fluids are commonly referred to in the veterinary literature as modified transudate, but this is a misnomer. The modified transudate begins as a transudate and changes as it persists and causes mild inflammation. Low protein and cell effusions in FIP arise as exudates and not as transudates and do not conform to this description. The more correct term is "modified exudate" or "variant exudate outflow".

How long do sweats usually last in cats treated with GS-441524 or GC376? The presence of abdominal effusions often leads to a large dilation of the abdomen and is confirmed by palpation, hollow needle aspiration, X-ray or ultrasound. Cats with thoracic effusions are most often presented with severe shortness of breath and are confirmed by radiological examination and aspiration. Chest effusions are almost always removed to relieve shortness of breath and recur slowly compared to abdominal effusions. Therefore, abdominal effusions are usually not removed unless they are massive and do not interfere with respiration, as they are quickly replaced. Repeated drainage of abdominal effusions can also deplete proteins and cause harmful changes in fluid and electrolyte balance in severely ill cats.

Chest effusions disappear faster with GS-441524 treatment, with improved breathing within 24-72 hours and usually disappearing in less than 7 days. Abdominal effusions usually decrease significantly within 7-14 days and disappear within 21-28 days. The detection of exudates that persist after this time depends on their amount and method of detection. Small amounts of persistent fluid can only be detected by ultrasound.

Persistence of exudates during or after antiviral treatment. There are three basic reasons for the persistence of exudates. The first is the persistence of the infection and the resulting inflammation at a certain level, which can be caused by inappropriate treatment, poor medication or drug resistance. Inadequate treatment may be the result of incorrect dosing of the wrong drug or the acquisition of virus resistance to the drug. The second reason for fluid persistence is chronic venous damage and increased capillary pressure. This may be due to a low-grade infection or residual fibrosis from an infection that has been removed. The third reason for persistence is the existence of other diseases, which can also manifest as exudates. These include congenital heart disease, in particular cardiomyopathy, chronic liver disease (acquired or congenital), hypoproteinemia (acquired or congenital) and cancer. Congenital diseases causing effusions are more common in young cats, while acquired causes and cancer are more commonly diagnosed in older cats.

Diagnosis and treatment of persistent effusions. A thorough examination of the fluid, as described above, is a prerequisite for diagnosis and treatment. If the fluid is inflammatory or semi-inflammatory and the cell pellet is positive by PCR or IHC, the reason for the persistence of the infection must be determined. Was the antiviral treatment performed correctly, was the antiviral drug active and its concentration correct, was there evidence of acquired drug resistance? If the fluid is inflammatory and PCR and IHC are negative, what other diseases are possible? Low protein and non-inflammatory fluids that are negative for PCR and IHC indicate a diagnosis of residual small vessel fibrosis and / or other contributing causes such as heart disease, chronic liver disease, hypoproteinemia (bowel disease or kidneys). Some of the disorders causing this type of effusion may require an exploratory laparotomy with a thorough examination of the abdominal organs and a selective biopsy to determine the origin of the fluid. The treatment of persistent effusions will vary greatly depending on the end cause. Persistent effusions caused by residual small vessel fibrosis in cats cured of the infection often resolve after many weeks or months. Persistent discharges caused in whole or in part by other diseases require treatment for these diseases.

Identification and characteristics of persistent effusions. The presence of fluid after 4 weeks of GS treatment is unpleasant and is usually detected in several ways depending on the amount of fluid and its location. Large amounts of fluid are usually determined by the degree of abdominal dilation, palpation, X-ray and abdominal aspiration, while smaller amounts of fluid are best detected by ultrasound. Persistent pleural effusion is usually detected by X-rays or ultrasound. Overall, ultrasound is the most accurate means of detecting and semiquantitatively determining thoracic and abdominal effusions. Ultrasound can also be used in combination with thin needle aspiration to collect small and localized amounts of fluid.

The second step in examining persistent effusions is to analyze them based on color, protein content, white and red blood cell counts, and the types of white blood cells present. Fluids generated primarily by inflammation will have protein levels close to or equal to plasma and a large number of white blood cells (neutrophils, lymphocytes, monocytes / macrophages and large vacuolated macrophages). Fluids produced by increased capillary pressure are more similar to interstitial fluid with proteins closer to 2.0 g / dl and cell counts <200. The Rivalt test is often used to diagnose FIP-related effusions. However, this is not a specific test for FIP, but rather for inflammatory effusions. It is usually positive for FIP effusions that are high in protein and cells, but is often negative for very low protein and cell effusions. The effluents that are between these two types of effusions will be tested either positively or negatively, depending on where they are in the spectrum.

The third step is the analysis of exudates for the presence of FIP virus. This usually requires 5 to 25 ml or more of fluid. For fluids with a higher protein and cell count, a smaller amount may suffice, while for fluids with a low protein and cell count, a larger amount is required. The freshly collected sample should be centrifuged and the cell pellet analyzed for the presence of viral RNA by PCR or cytocentrifuged for immunohistochemistry (IHC). The PCR test should be for FIPV 7b RNA and not for specific FIPV mutations, as the mutation test does not have sufficient sensitivity and does not provide any diagnostic benefits [5]. Samples that are positive by PCR or IHC provide definitive evidence of FIP. However, up to 30 % samples from known cases of FIP may have a false negative test either due to an inappropriate sample and its preparation, or because the RNA level of the FIP virus is below the level of detection. It is also true that the less inflammatory the fluid, the lower the virus levels. Therefore, effusions with lower protein and white blood cell levels are more likely to be tested negative because viral RNA is below the detection limit of the test.


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