H5N1 virus has been found in cats in Europe as well as in Indonesia.
This means that there is yet another reservoir for the H5N1 virus, where it can have a chance to develop and mutate in its own time.
In January of this year, Chairul Anwar Nidom of Airlangga University in Surabaya, Indonesia, took blood samples from 500 stray cats near poultry markets in four areas of Java, including the capital, Jakarta, and one area in Sumatra, all of which have recently had outbreaks of H5N1 in poultry and people.
Of these cats, 20 per cent carried antibodies to H5N1.
(This does not mean that they were still carrying the virus, only that they had been infected – probably through eating birds that had H5N1).
Many other cats that were infected are likely to have died from the resulting illness, so many more than 20 per cent of the original cat populations may have acquired H5N1.
This is a much higher rate of infection than has been found in surveys of apparently healthy birds in Asia. “I am quite taken aback by the results,” says Nidom, who also found the virus in Indonesian pigs in 2005. He plans further tests of the samples at the University of Tokyo in February.
“We know the 1918 pandemic was a bird flu virus that adapted to mammals in some intermediate mammalian host, possibly pigs,” says Albert Osterhaus of Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. “Maybe for H5N1 the intermediate host is cats.” he adds.
It was Osterhaus’s lab which in 2004 found that cats can catch the H5N1 virus.
In addition to that, domestic cats live in very close proximity with humans.
Many more people have cats in the house than those who keep poultry in their homes.
So it is argued, that if the H5N1 virus can be transferred from poultry to humans, as is the case (though currently it is relatively rare for this to happen) then infected cats could well be another source of H5N1 infection for the virus.
Yulian Susanty, Chair of the Cat Fancy Indonesia said that the city’s cat population needed to be controlled. “If it goes up to an alarming rate, it will be unhealthy for the people,” she said.
The exact number of stray cats in the city is not known, although Yulian said that with the short reproduction cycle of cats it would be a lot.
“I can’t give you an exact number. But in some places that we surveyed, such as in Manggarai Market and Tanah Karet graveyard, when we first surveyed the places two years ago, there are more than 100 female cats in each place. Today the number of cats there could reach the thousands,” she said.
She said that a female cat can give birth up to four times a year, meaning that each month 100 cats would probably produce 200 kittens.
“In a year, there could be up to more than 700 cats,” she said.
“And that’s only two sites in this city. Multiply them by the many other places in the city where stray cats live, then we have plenty,” she said.
Sources for the above:
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