H5N1 avian influenza in domestic cat in Germany - 01 march 2006 - 09:23

H5N1 AVIAN INFLUENZA GERMANY - Authorities in Germany have today announced detection of H5N1 avian influenza in a domestic cat. German officials warned cat owners yesterday not to sleep accompanied by their pets, and to keep them indoors, following confirmation that a cat has died of the H5N1 avian flu virus.

The cat was found at the weekend on the Baltic island of Rügen, near to where most of Germany's 121 cases of H5N1-infected wild birds have been found. Tests carried out on the animal by scientists at Germany's Friedrich-Loeffler institute confirmed H5N1. This is the first time in Europe. The cat was found dead over the weekend on the northern island of Ruegen. Since mid-February, more than 100 wild birds have died on the island, and tests have confirmed H5N1 infection in several.


H5N1 avian influenza in domestic cats in Germany

A cat was found died on the island of Rügen in the North-East of Germany, it was carrying the avian influenza. It is a German laboratory of animal health, the laboratory Friedrich Loeffler, which announced this news yesterday, virus H5N1 of the avian influenza transmitted birds died to the cat. It could be a question of the first case of contamination of a mammal in Europe. "One already knows in Asia that cats can be contaminated if they eat birds contaminated" by the virus, specified the laboratory Friedrich Loeffler, based in Riems. According to the laboratory Friedrich Loeffler "on the island of Riem one noted an infection with virus H5N1 of the avian influenza " on a dead found cat "one still seeks if it is about the highly pathogenic stock which led in Asia and Turkey to diseases at men".

The samples are analyzed within the national laboratory of reference for the avian influenza on the island of Riem ". The laboratory specifies that "cats can be contaminated by the virus if they eat birds themselves contaminated" for Thomas Mettenleiter. The FLI advises with the owners of cats not to leave them in freedom because, even "if the corpses of birds are largely collected, there can remain certain about it carrier of virus H5N1 of the avian influenza ".

The laboratory specifies "that during last years in Asia, several cats which nourished themselves in the zoos starting from poultry corpses contracted the flu virus aviaire and in died about it". "Of the domestic cats also proved to be receptive with the virus". However the German laboratory specifies that the transmission of the virus of the cat to the man "was not proven yet up to now".

The laboratory Friedrich Loeffler recommends to the owners cats to respect a particular hygiene because one cannot "exclude theoretically that a very intimate contact with contaminated animals can make it possible virus H5N1 to be transmitted to the man". The Bird flu with the aviary influenza "can possibly infect other animal species" like "the pig, of the watery mammals (seal, whale) and terrestrial (horse, mink) and in a rare way, with particular circumstances félidés, mustélidés, the animals of laboratory (mouse, rat, pipe cleaner, guinea-pig, even rabbit), to see even the dog with under type of the avian influenza, the H3N8", specifies interdepartmental Internet site devoted to the aviary influenza. The confirmed number of wild birds found died and carrying the H5N1 in Germany amounts to 129.

There is no present evidence that domestic cats play a role in the transmission cycle of H5N1 viruses. To date, no human case has been linked to exposure to a diseased cat. No outbreaks in domestic cats have been reported. Unlike the case in domestic and wild birds, there is no evidence that domestic cats are a reservoir of the virus. All available evidence indicates that cat infections occur in association with H5N1 outbreaks in domestic or wild birds.

Experimental studies, published in September 2004, demonstrated that the H5N1 virus can infect domestic cats, and that cats can transmit the virus to other cats. In these experiments, the cats developed disease following direct inoculation of virus isolated from a fatal human case, and following the feeding of infected raw chicken.

Germany's agriculture ministry said there was no reason to panic but warned that cat owners in affected areas should keep their pets indoors. “It isn't easy for a cat to become infected. This must have happened in very unusual circumstances. Probably the cat ate a highly infectious animal,” said Michael Schmidt, a virologist at Berlin's Free University. “It is very rare for an infected animal to infect humans. There have only been about 160 cases so far. Nevertheless, it's best if cat owners avoid taking their cats into their beds. They should keep a distance.”

The current H5N1 panzootic in birds, which began in mid-December in parts of South-East Asia, has been accompanied by a few anecdotal reports of H5N1 infection in domestic cats. In all such reports, eating raw infected poultry was considered the most likely source of infection for the cats.

Several published studies have demonstrated H5N1 infection in large cats kept in captivity. In December 2003, two tigers and two leopards, fed on fresh chicken carcasses, died unexpectedly at a zoo in Thailand. Subsequent investigation identified H5N1 in tissue samples.

In February 2004, the virus was detected in a clouded leopard that died at a zoo near Bangkok. A white tiger died from infection with the virus at the same zoo in March 2004.

In October 2004, captive tigers fed on fresh chicken carcasses began dying in large numbers at a zoo in Thailand. Altogether 147 tigers out of 441 died of infection or were euthanized. Subsequent investigation determined that at least some tiger-to-tiger transmission of the virus occurred.

There is no vaccine to protect cats against flu, and unlikely to be one, because expensive clinical trials would have to be done to establish its effectiveness.

It was not clear last night whether the dead cat succumbed to the same strain of H5N1 which has already devastated poultry stocks across Asia and Turkey. H5N1 has killed more than 100 people in the world. For WHO, avian influenza refers to a large group of different influenza viruses that primarily affect birds. On rare occasions, these bird viruses can infect other species, including pigs and humans. The vast majority of avian influenza viruses do not infect humans. An influenza pandemic happens when a new subtype emerges that has not previously circulated in humans. For this reason, avian H5N1 is a strain with pandemic potential, since it might ultimately adapt into a strain that is contagious among humans. Once this adaptation occurs, it will no longer be a bird virus--it will be a human influenza virus. Influenza pandemics are caused by new influenza viruses that have adapted to humans.

An influenza pandemic is a rare but recurrent event. Three pandemics occurred in the previous century: “Spanish influenza” in 1918, “Asian influenza” in 1957, and “Hong Kong influenza” in 1968. The 1918 pandemic killed an estimated 40–50 million people worldwide. That pandemic, which was exceptional, is considered one of the deadliest disease events in human history. Subsequent pandemics were much milder, with an estimated 2 million deaths in 1957 and 1 million deaths in 1968.

A pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus emerges and starts spreading as easily as normal influenza – by coughing and sneezing. Because the virus is new, the human immune system will have no pre-existing immunity. This makes it likely that people who contract pandemic influenza will experience more serious disease than that caused by normal influenza.

Health experts have been monitoring a new and extremely severe influenza virus – the H5N1 strain – for almost eight years. The H5N1 strain first infected humans in Hong Kong in 1997, causing 18 cases, including six deaths. Since mid-2003, this virus has caused the largest and most severe outbreaks in poultry on record. In December 2003, infections in people exposed to sick birds were identified.

Since then, over 100 human cases have been laboratory confirmed in four Asian countries (Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Viet Nam), and more than half of these people have died. Most cases have occurred in previously healthy children and young adults. Fortunately, the virus does not jump easily from birds to humans or spread readily and sustainably among humans. Should H5N1 evolve to a form as contagious as normal influenza, a pandemic could begin.

Once a fully contagious virus emerges, its global spread is considered inevitable. Countries might, through measures such as border closures and travel restrictions, delay arrival of the virus, but cannot stop it. The pandemics of the previous century encircled the globe in 6 to 9 months, even when most international travel was by ship. Given the speed and volume of international air travel today, the virus could spread more rapidly, possibly reaching all continents in less than 3 months.

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