Mutated avian influenza virus detected in cat

A cat in France was euthanized because of an avian influenza infection. The virus was believed to have been transmitted at duck farm.

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(S. Kraus)
(S. Kraus)

Cats have a tendency to roam, and one poor feline has paid the price for, I assume, visiting a duck farm.

The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES) reports that, late last year, a sick cat suffering severe neurological symptoms had to be euthanized. The cause of the animal’s distress? Infection with a mutated strain of the H5N1 avian influenza (AI) virus

This is not the first time that AI has been detected in a cat, infected cats have been recorded in Germany and Thailand, but it is, nevertheless, a cause for concern.

The virus isolated from the cat had genetic characteristics of adaptation to mammals. Genetic investigations carried out by ANSES confirmed that only the cat carried the mutant virus, and that there was no evidence of the mutation in ducks on the farm where the infection occurred.

Personal tragedy, broader concern

The agency has strongly advised pet owners to keep their animals away from infected farms or operations that cull infected birds. Contamination of pets, it warns, could make it easier for the virus to cross into humans.

Most attention where AI is concerned is paid to losses in the poultry industry and, while human infections are thankfully rare, they do occur.

The latest data from the World Health Organization (WHO), for example, reveals that between January 2003 and January 5 this year, a total of 240 cases of human infection with AI A(H5N1) were recorded from four countries in the Western Pacific Region, which stretches from Mongolia to New Zealand. Of these cases, 135 were fatal, resulting in a case fatality rate of 56%.

Europe has been suffering its worst AI outbreak ever and France’s neighbors, the U.K. and Spain, both reported human cases of AI last year, although none were fatal.

The risk to humans acquiring AI is higher if there is close and repeated contact with infected birds or with heavily contaminated environments. However, the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH) points that that in addition to infecting cats, the virus has also been shown to infect other mammals including rats, mice, weasels, ferrets, pigs, tigers, dogs and horses.

Read our ongoing coverage of the global avian influenza outbreak.

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