After a thorough cleaning and disinfection, the Loudoun County Animal Shelter began accepting cats again last week, although adoptions will not resume until Thursday.

Adoptions were suspended Dec. 28 after an outbreak of the highly infectious feline distemper virus killed or forced the euthanization of about 50 cats.

"We will be housing them for 10 days before adoptions resume," said shelter employee Kim Miller. "We want to clear the incubation period."

Feline distemper, also known as feline panleukopenia, is an acute disease with a high mortality rate. It is spread through contact with an infected cat or through contact with its bodily secretions or excretions. It is harmless to humans and dogs but potentially fatal to unprotected cats, especially kittens.

Miller said an infected stray probably brought the virus to the shelter in December. The cat was placed in isolation for observation because it had bitten someone, and it died soon afterward.

The cat tested negative for rabies, but many of the shelter's other cats began showing symptoms of distemper, such as fever, appetite loss, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea.

All of them, including those adopted and waiting to be taken home, died or were euthanized.

"The community has been very understanding," Miller said. "A lot of people have stopped in to give their condolences. Since Monday, we've received about 18 cats."

-- Daniele Seiss