Feline coronavirus (FCoV) is transmitted via the faecal–oral route and primarily infects enterocytes, but subsequently spreads by monocyte-associated viraemia. In some infected cats, virulent virus mutants induce feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), a fatal systemic disease that can develop in association with viraemia. Persistently infected, healthy carriers are believed to be important in the epidemiology of FIP, as they represent a constant source of FCoV, shed either persistently or intermittently in faeces. So far, the sites of virus persistence have not been determined definitely. The purpose of this study was to examine virus distribution and viral load in organs and gut compartments of specified-pathogen-free cats, orally infected with non-virulent type I FCoV, over different time periods and with or without detectable viraemia. The colon was identified as the major site of FCoV persistence and probable source for recurrent shedding, but the virus was shown also to persist in several other organs, mainly in tissue macrophages. These might represent additional sources for recurrent viraemia.


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