Bird flu and cats - is your cat at risk?

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With all the recent coverage, you have no doubt heard something about Avian Flu, or Bird Flu as it's is more commonly known. Media interest is very high but opinions about the potential threat to humans vary wildly amongst the experts.

It seems no true consensus exists, although one thing does seem clear. Within bird populations, Avian Flu is highly dangerous and spreading fast.

Does that bear any relevance on the potential threat to us? Personally I've decided to take a sceptical view until I see something other than conjecture.

Something that has concerned me, however, is the recent suggestion that cats can catch or carry Avian Flu. I decided to investigate further.

After a quick search on Google I had a wealth of information from which to draw.

The BBC reports a case in which a domestic cat in Germany died from bird flu. The article also gives some interesting and somewhat reassuring background information, stating that isolated incidents in both big and small cat populations, plus one small localised outbreak in a Zoo have been seen in the last two years, but there is yet to be any 'wild' outbreak of any kind.

Their expert also comments that, " whilst the risk of feline infection is real it is not huge.."

".in affected areas in Asia, where people live in close proximity with poultry, hundreds of thousands of humans have handled infected birds - and yet less than 200 are known to have contracted the virus."

Putting ethical arguments of animal testing aside for a moment, the National Geographic reports that a study conducted at Erasmus Medical Centre (EMC) in Rotterdam, Holland, confirmed some established theories and disproved some others.

The test cats proved susceptible to direct, intended infection by the scientists, and also indirectly by eating infected chicken meat. Worryingly, and disproving previously held beliefs, two 'control subjects' were kept with the infected cats and to they too came down with the disease.

Future Implications

There seems to be a general agreement that based on the evidence the chance of infection from bird to cat is small, and the chance of transmission from cat to human is even smaller.

As there are few feline examples and no recorded cat to human cases there seems to be no real need for concern right now. To pose a real threat the virus would have to mutate in such a way as to increase the ease of infection between species and between individuals. Although this mutation is possible, it is unlikely to happen any time soon and may never happen at all.

If you happen to live in an area where infections have been reported, some basic steps can be taken to minimise any risk even further.

The Friedrich-Loeffler laboratory has recommended that very intimate contact between cats and humans be avoided, and several experts recommend encouraging the cat to stay indoors as much as possible.

Marion Csajor of the animal shelter's board in Singen, Germany suggests to those of us who look after the odd stray "Feed the wild cat to keep it from gnawing on dead birds (and) tell the authorities immediately if it shows signs of sickness."

If you have any thoughts on this subject please write and let us know. We'd love to hear your opinions and we may even do a follow up story exploring some of these ideas next month.

This article was first published in The Purr Company's regular Mews-letter, visit us for more cat stories and articles, a gallery of our visitors cats , cat videos and our online shop.

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