Cats, Tigers and the Bird Flu

Bird Flu, is not only for the birds.

The H5N1 virus has been found in pigs, cats, dogs, rodents and even tigers.

Over 83 tigers have recently died or have been destroyed at a Thai zoo in an outbreak of bird flu.The tigers had started dying of Bird Flu, at the Sriracha Tiger Zoo in central Chonburi province in Thailand after eating raw chicken carcasses.

Wild Animal Protection and Conservation Centre head Preecha Rattaporn said 83 dead tigers, including at least 18 killed by lethal injection, were confirmed bird flu victims.

The most dangerous cross infection of the H5N1 virus may be that of cats however.

Jason Gale and Karima Anjani writing for Bloomberg, have a good article on an old fear that we have all had about the spread of the H5N1 virus.

C.A.Nidom, a scientist at Airlangga University in Surabaya, found H5N1 in 98 of 500 cats living near poultry markets in high-risk areas on the island of Java and in Lampung province on southern Sumatra island.

Looking back it is obvious that dead birds are a regular part of cats and if the dead birsd the  cat eats died of H5N1 then the cat is very likely to be infected with the virus.

“Cats eat birds and therefore can become infected by this virus and help it to mutate and adapt” to mammals, said Andrew Jeremijenko, who headed an influenza surveillance project for the Naval American Medical Research Unit in Indonesia until last March. “Maybe there is a role that cats are playing and we don’t understand it yet.”

Avian-flu experts have long viewed pigs as the mammals in which a pandemic virus may emerge because the farm animals can catch versions of flu that infect birds and humans. As a host for both types of the flu, pigs are one of several species in which the viruses combine and mutate, acquiring properties that make each year’s seasonal flu different from the year before.

Pandemic Concern

Erasmus University may assist in helping determine how cats become infected, what damage the virus causes to their organs, whether it spreads among the felines and it has undergone any genetic changes, said Ron Fouchier, a virologist at Rotterdam, Netherlands-based Erasmus.

“We have yet to understand the epidemiology of the virus, how it crosses from different species,” says Weaver. “If we miss the key component that these cats perhaps disseminate the disease, then we’re not catching up with the game.”

The H5N1 virus shares many characteristics with the Spanish flu that killed as many as 50 million people worldwide in 1918 and 1919. Researchers say the virus started in birds, until genetic changes allowed it to spread quickly in people. Cats may be a concern not just because they prey on birds, but because in some parts of the world they share food and beds with people.

Cat Warning  “One thing we do not want is for this virus to become endemic in cats,” Fouchier said Feb. 27 in a telephone interview. “As long as these are dead-end infections — a cat eats a chicken and then dies — it’s not so much of a problem.”

Here is the full article by Jason Gale and Karima Anjani


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