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Avian Flu and Domestic Cats

By: Petplace Staff

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The avian flu has become an increasingly prevalent topic in the news over the last few years. A strain of the influenza virus, also known as H5N1, usually infects poultry or wild birds and has spread to more than 30 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. The H5N1 virus does not usually infect humans but according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), humans have been infected from close contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces. H5N1 is responsible for killing 109 people in nine countries, and scientists are concerned about the possibility of any mutation that would allow the virus to spread more easily to humans.

It has been reported that cats that have ingested infected raw poultry have been susceptible to the virus. In Thailand in 2004, two domestic cats and a leopard died after feeding on infected chicken carcasses. In March of 2006, the virus was discovered in a deceased domestic cat on an island off northern Germany. This recent discovery prompted German officials to order all domestic cats kept indoors and dogs kept on leashes in areas affected by bird flu.

Cats are known to be able to become infected with the H5N1. As reported in a recent issue of Nature, researchers have discovered through laboratory testing that infected cats are also able to spread the virus to other cats. This new information has caused some scientists to believe that felines may be the next potential vector for transmission to people, although it is not yet known whether the virus can transmit from cats to humans. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control is recommending cats be kept indoors if they are within 6 miles of a known H5N1 infection. However, the Associated Press reported Dr. Arnold S. Monto of the University of Michigan, School of Public Health, stating scientists need to learn more about what role, if any, cats have in spreading H5N1 before making such blanket recommendations.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control based in Stockholm has issued the following written guidelines:

"The following advice should generally be applied within the surveillance area (10 km radius of a verified A/H5N1 infection in birds). The extent of this area may have to be modified after a local risk assessment.

  • Keep domestic cats inside the house to avoid exposure to potentially infected birds

  • Keep semi-domestic or stray cats outside the house and avoid contact with them

  • If a cat brings a sick or dead bird into the house, put on ordinary gloves and dispose of the bird as recommended by your Department of Agriculture

  • If your cat is sick and has potentially been in contact with birds, contact the local veterinary authorities

  • Notify of dead cats to the local veterinary department

    There are also hygiene rules that apply in general, regardless of any risk of A/H5N1 infection:

  • Wear gloves when cleaning cat litter and wash hands afterwards

  • Do not touch dead animals. If you must for some reason, such as moving them from the yard, try to use a shovel or other object and wash your hands afterwards

  • Always wash hands before handling food

    Also note that washing hands with soap and water and washing clothes at recommended temperature with an ordinary detergent is enough to destroy influenza virus. "

    For more information:

    European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control guidelines, visit www.ecdc.eu.int

    Frequently asked questions on Avian influenza, visit http://www.avma.org/public_health/influenza/avian_faq.asp

    Information on H5N1 in Cats (from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), visit http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/subjects/en/health/diseases-cards/avian_cats.html

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