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The World Health Organization reports that dozens of cats have contracted bird flu in Poland (from). In 13 regions of the country, 29 animals were found to be infected with H5N1, a type that spreads through migratory wild birds. None of the people who came into contact with the cats got sick.
According to the World Health Organization, it is not new for cats and other mammals to occasionally contract avian influenza. This is the first time that the organization has recorded so many infections in domestic cats spread over a large area within a country.
The World Health Organization estimates that the risk of people contracting the disease after exposure to infected cats is low. For cat owners or people who handle animals through their work, such as veterinarians, this risk is “low to moderate.” In the final assessment, the organization assumes that someone is not wearing appropriate protective clothing, such as a face mask and gloves.
The reason for the investigation
At the end of last month, the Polish authorities reported the extraordinary death of a total of 45 cats. Tests conducted last week showed that 29 of them had bird flu. 14 animals had to be killed, and 11 more died from the virus. Some of them showed symptoms such as difficulty breathing and bloody diarrhoea. Neurological symptoms such as paralysis and epilepsy also appeared.
It remains unclear how the cats were infected, which is still under investigation. A possible explanation is indirect contact with or eating a sick bird.
Since October 2021, Europe has been dealing with the largest outbreak of bird flu ever. H5N1 is a species spread by migratory wild birds and has now been identified in birds on nearly all continents. “Only in Australia and Antarctica are there no known cases of birds infected with this species,” virologist Thejs Koeken previously explained.
The virus reaches poultry farms and fur farms via wild birds, which can make people sick. Virologist Marion Koopmans said last Saturday in the NOS Radio 1 Magazine. “But you don’t want to see that happen if these avian influenza viruses start circulating in such large numbers of mammals. That’s our concern.”
In Finland, bird flu has appeared in arctic fox and mink farms. “We see mutations in the virus occurring in those who eat meat. So far, these adaptations have had limited consequences, but we know from previous experience that this can lead to viruses becoming transmissible.” Koopmans says he’s playing with fire.
The Expert Council on Zoonoses, which advises the Dutch government on this, says the risk of the virus spreading among the population in the Netherlands is low.
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