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A twenty-year study into bird flu in cats shows that the latest strain is increasingly dangerous

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A twenty-year study into bird flu in cats shows that the latest strain is increasingly dangerous

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A review of the scientific literature by the University of Maryland shows that domestic cats can contract the rapidly evolving H5N1 bird flu, potentially putting owners, veterinarians and others at risk if the virus continues to circulate unabated.

The study, available in preliminary form at MedRxiv pending peer review, investigated the global distribution and spread of avian influenza infections in cats between 2004 and 2024, finding a drastic increase in reports from 2023 onwards, with a peak in the number of reported infections among domestic cats, as opposed to feral cats or zoo cats. kept animals.

This increase coincides with the rapid spread of the current H5N1 strain among mammals, says the study’s first author, Assistant Professor Kristen Coleman, airborne infectious disease researcher at the School of Public Health and associate professor in the Department of Veterinary Medicine .

Avian flu has not been reported to be contagious between humans, and it is not certain that the flu will evolve in that direction, but the disease is clearly changing. The current H5N1 strain has spread to animals that have never been affected before, and pets that can pass the disease to people may play a role in how it develops.

Since April in Texas, dairy cattle in 12 states have contracted bird flu, as have three people who worked with infected cows in Texas and Michigan. Along with the infected workers in Texas, two farm cats fed unpasteurized milk also contracted the disease.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which provides guidance to veterinarians who work with potentially infected animals, said the risk of contracting the disease from pets is low, but Coleman suggested that pet owners should take precautions to keep their cats and dogs safe. to protect themselves.

“Do not feed your cat raw meat or raw dairy milk and limit the time he is outside unsupervised,” she said. “Cats prey on wild birds that may be infected, and they can end up in raw milk on a farm if it is not stored safely.”

Additionally, the virus has been reported in house mice, which cats also prey on, so it appears that the chances of cross-species transmission are increasing and that domestic cats may be at increased risk.

Cat owners should also watch for respiratory and neurological signs, and consider taking them to the vet if they appear to be having trouble breathing or are acting unusually. The current H5N1 strain has also reportedly caused blindness in cats.

Since the emergence of H5N1 in American dairy cattle, 21 domestic cats have reportedly been infected. Complete genetic sequences of the virus strains infecting two of these cats have been reported in the scientific literature. Coleman said sequencing and demographic data for the other cat cases are urgently needed.

Bird flu, or bird flu, was once a fastidious disease, mainly infecting migratory waterfowl and farmed poultry. But since 2020, the highly contagious strain known as H5N1 has begun spreading among a wider variety of birds. The disease has recently occurred in a growing number of mammals, even decimating entire colonies of sea lions across South America.

Although the disease is new in many animals, cats have been victims of bird flu on and off for decades, most likely because they eat birds and are exposed to them through sick or dead prey that carry the virus.

Coleman reported that the mortality rate for the current H5N1 variant in cats is about 67% – itself a good reason for pet owners to keep their cats indoors and away from wild birds. She also found other concerning indicators, including multiple reports of cats contracting bird flu from other cats.

In addition, both zookeepers and animal shelter employees have contracted bird flu from cats in their care. Although not the current H5N1 strain, these cases reveal cats as potential vectors for the disease in humans.

Coleman suggested that cats and other animals should be monitored for the disease not only because of their illness, but also to protect human health.

“The virus will creep into more and more places, just like it did on dairy farms,” ​​she says. “We know cats get infected, so let’s get ahead of that.”

More information:
Kristen K. Coleman et al, Avian Influenza Virus Infections in Cats: A Systematic Review of Two Decades of Literature, MedRxiv (2024). DOI: 10.1101/2024.04.30.24306585

Provided by the University of Maryland


Quote: 20-year review of avian flu in cats reveals rising danger from newest strain (2024, June 17), retrieved June 17, 2024 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2024-06-year-avian-flu- cats-reveals .html

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