For the first time, a type of bird influenza has been shown to infect and sicken house cats, which has some experts worried that there may one day be a strain of severe flu that can pass easily from human to human and create a pandemic.
The flu strain in question is the 2003-2004 outbreak in Asia of the H5N1 virus, which caused massive poultry slaughters in eight Asian countries and also led to at least 34 human infections, at least 23 of which were fatal. During the outbreak, there were also anecdotal reports of fatal infections in cats, reports Forbes.
So far, cats haven't been implicated in the spread of avian flu to people, cautioned World Health Organization's influenza chief Klaus Stohr.
There are two potential reasons, he said: "One is nobody looked. The other is they don't play a role," as infected cats don't shed nearly as much virus as do infected poultry.
But hearing of the Dutch discovery, the WHO alerted scientists to examine household cats and other mammals whenever they investigate human bird-flu infections. The first such check, in Vietnam last week, found cats in patients' households were healthy, Stohr said, informs MSNBC News.
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