Thirty-four domestic cats in eight Polish provinces tested positive for avian influenza (AFP)

In a bizarre development, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported an that several cats have died in regions in Poland in the past few days. Over half of them tested positive for bird flu or H5N1 or avian influenza. 

Thirty-four domestic cats in eight Polish provinces tested positive for avian influenza. And this marks the first instance of such a widespread infection in cats within a country, the WHO cited

However, there’s no evidence of cat-to-cat transmission or any reported illnesses in people who were exposed to the infected felines.

What are the symptoms and causes of sudden rise in cases?

The infected cats displayed neurological signs, such as paralysis and seizures, becoming severely ill. Notably, avian influenza rarely affects domestic animals, but cases in cats have been associated with consuming raw sick or dead wild birds or being in contaminated environments.

The World Health Organization (WHO) assured that the virus did not appear to be spreading from cat-to-cat, and there were no reports of illness in cat owners or individuals exposed to the infected felines. The majority of infected cats lived indoors with partial outdoor access, while others were primarily outdoor cats exposed to wild birds, potentially explaining their infection.

Some of the infected cats were fed raw poultry or poultry parts, which could have contributed to their exposure to the virus. Of the 34 infected cats, 11 died from the infection, and 14 were euthanized to prevent further spread.

Fortunately, human contacts with the infected cats showed no symptoms, and the surveillance period for those individuals is now complete. This suggests a limited risk of transmission from cats to humans in this specific outbreak. 

Public health measures, including avoiding the feeding of raw poultry to cats and promptly reporting any unusual animal illnesses, remain crucial to prevent and control such outbreaks in the future.

Apart from Poland, strain of bird flu in two cats in a feline shelter in South Korea. Meanwhile, a BBC report said, said the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of the virus is devastating Irish seabird colonies.

What did WHO say?

The WHO, on July 13, expressed concern about the surge in bird flu outbreaks among mammals, potentially facilitating easier transmission to humans. Avian influenza viruses typically remain within bird populations, but the rising number of H5N1 avian influenza cases in mammals is alarming. 

Since 2022, around 10 countries on three continents have reported outbreaks in mammals to the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH). 

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Updated: 26 Jul 2023, 03:02 PM IST

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