Avian influenza: birds, pigs, now cats
Bird flu can now infect felines, confirms a paper published in this week's Science. The study shows that the virus is transferable between cats although they have not yet passed it on to other species. Scientists fear that the more hosts the virus infects, the higher are its chances of mutating into a more dangerous form and perhaps 'jumping' to humans.
The first reported case of bird flu infecting cats came in January after the death of a clouded leopard at a Bangkok zoo. A month later, at the same zoo, a sick white tiger tested positive for H5N1, the bird flu virus which has caused several human deaths in Asia this year. Reportedly, the likely cause of infection was eating raw, infected poultry.
Domestic cats have also died from the virus but scientists are saying there is no need for the public to worry about their pets, although people are advised to be vigilant with cats that have access to poultry. That pigs may be infected with bird flu is far more worrisome, say scientists, because pigs are ideal mixing vessels in which bird flu can combine with human flu viruses to form a new strain that could be highly infectious for humans.