Study Suggests Cats Can Catch Bird Flu

The virulent strain of bird flu that has killed 26 people in Asia and has now reached as far west as the UK can infect cats and be transmitted from one cat to another, a new study suggests. The finding raises the possibility that they may eventually spread the flu to other mammals, including humans.?

Scientists previously believed domestic cats were resistant to diseases from influenza A virus, to which the bird flu virus-also known as H5N1-belongs. The new research suggests that domestic cats are at risk of disease or death from the avian virus. The cats can also play a role in the transmission of the virus, scientists say.

This finding not only means that multi-cat households could be struck more than once by cross-infection, but that cats could transmit the virus from one poultry farm to another.

Thijs Kuiken, a veterinary pathologist in the department of virology at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Holland, found that the virus could make cats sick when the pathogen was introduced into their airways or when the cats ate infected chickens. Two cats were exposed to the virus by being placed in the same cage as infected cats. All the cats in the study demonstrated symptoms of the disease, and all developed severe lung disease.

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