Frequently Asked Questions
What is Aleutian's Disease (ADV) ?
ADV is a virus that causes an autoimmune response in the ferrets body.
Many people liken it to HIV and AIDS in humans, and while there are many differences
between the 2, there are also some similarities that make it easier for people who don't
know about ADV to understand.
Like AIDS, it is spread through bodily fluids, and causes an autoimmune disease. Also, like AIDS, an infected ferret can spread ADV even though it is not showing any outward symptoms.
ADV differs from AIDS, though, because it is very hardy, and can live for long periods outside a host body. Also, while AIDS suppresses the immune system, ADV puts it into overdrive.
With ADV, it is not the virus that damages the organs leading to sickness and possibly death, but the ferret's immune system. The virus causes the immune system to produce antibodies that fail to fight off the virus. Because the virus remains, the body continues to produce the antibodies. Over time, the antibodies form a plaque that deposits in the organs and along the blood vessel walls, causing the organs to malfunction, and possible the blood vessel wall to weaken and leak.
It appears that ADV is not a true airborne disease. Instead, it is spread through
contact with the bodily fluids of an infected animal. These fluids include urine, feces,
blood and saliva. Unlike many viruses, ADV is extremely hardy, and can survive outside a
host body for at least several years. So, the ADV is still present and infectious,
long after a puddle of urine has dried. Also, ADV can become attached to dust particles,
and as the dust becomes airborne, get moved around as a result.
What might cause one ferret to succumb to the virus may not affect another ferret. However, direct contact with an infected ferret is not required to spread the disease.
The good news about ADV (yes, there is some good news) is that some ferrets seem to have a natural immunity, and ferrets with ADV do not continually shed the disease.
The actual ADV virus is not always present in the fluids. Much of the time it is only in the organs, and during those times the ferret is not contagious.
Facts about Testing
The PCR test (done by the University of Georgia), will detect the presence of the
virus in the fluids, but those tests are only good for the point in time when the
sample is collected.
The ELISA test looks for the presence of one specific protein that is only present if the virus is active and replicating. Since ADV can go dormant for long periods of time, though, there may be times when the antibodies will be there but that one protein will not. The ferret still has ADV, and can still spread it, but you will get a negative ELISA result.
The CEP test looks for several proteins, and gives a positive result if any one of them are present. Therefore, whether the virus is active or dormant, the CEP will detect it.
Because I have provided many samples from my ferrets to the U of GA for their studies, I have learned just how deceiving ADV can be. There have been times when a ferrets urine might have the virus present, but the feces and blood from that same ferret don't.
It is important to realize: No test is 100% accurate. That is one of the reasons it is recommended that you run a test every year on your ferrets. Complete quarantine of newcomers for at least 2 weeks is always the best idea, during which time you can test your newcomer for ADV and if your other ferrets haven't been tested lately you can test them too.
Thank you Danee Devore for your FAQ overview!