Avian Influenza in Cats Should Be Closely Monitored
So far no sustained virus transmission in cats or from cats to humans. Cats can become infected with the highly lethal H5N1 avian influenza virus, but at present there is no scientific evidence to suggest that there has been sustained transmission of the virus in cats or from cats to humans, FAO said in a statement today.
As a precautionary measure, FAO recommended that in areas where the H5N1 virus has been found in poultry or wild birds, cats should be separated from infected birds until the danger has passed. On commercial poultry premises cats should even be kept indoors.
The agency advised against killing cats as a virus control option because there is nothing to suggest that cats are transmitting the virus in a sustained way. Removing cats could lead to a surge in rodents such as rats, which are an agricultural pest and often transmit diseases to humans.
Unconfirmed reports that H5N1 infection has been detected in a high prevalence in cats in Indonesia has caused some alarm. The scavenging cats were sampled in the vicinity of poultry markets in Java and Sumatra where outbreaks of H5N1 avian influenza had recently occurred.
This is not the first time that cats have been infected as previous incidents in Thailand, Iraq, the Russian Federation, the European Union and Turkey show. Cats can become infected by feeding on sick domestic or wild birds; they can develop severe to fatal disease and excrete the virus from the respiratory and digestive tracts.
"This raises some concern not only because cats could act as intermediary hosts in the spread of the H5N1 virus between species but also because growth in cats might help the H5N1 virus to adapt into a more highly infectious strain that could spark an influenza pandemic," said FAO Assistant Director-General Alexander M