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Avian Influenza Infection in Animals

Microbecide® Special Report

What animals can be infected with avian influenza A (H5N1) viruses?

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In addition to humans and birds, we know that pigs, tigers, leopards, ferrets, and domestic cats can be infected with avian influenza A (H5N1) viruses. In addition, in early March 2006, Germany reported H5N1 infection in a stone marten (a weasel-like mammal). The avian influenza A (H5N1) virus that emerged in Asia in 2003 is evolving and it’s possible that other mammals may be susceptible to infection as well. CDC is working closely with domestic and international partners to continually monitor this situation and will provide additional information to the public as it becomes available.

Can domestic cats be infected with avian influenza viruses?
While domestic cats are not usually susceptible to influenza type A infection, it is known that they can become infected and die (both experimentally and naturally) with avian influenza A (H5N1) viruses and, in a laboratory/research setting can spread the virus to other cats. It is not known whether domestic cats can spread the virus to other domestic cats under natural conditions.

How do cats become infected with avian influenza A (H5N1) viruses?
All of the cases of influenza A (H5N1) infection in domestic cats reported to date have been associated with H5N1 outbreaks among domestic poultry or wild birds and are thought to have occurred by the cat eating raw infected birds.

How commonly have cats been infected with avian influenza A (H5N1) viruses?
During the avian influenza A (H5N1) outbreak that occurred from 2003 to 2004 in Asia, there were only several unofficial reports of fatal infections in domestic cats. Studies carried out in the Netherlands and published in 2004 showed that housecats could be infected with avian influenza A (H5N1) and could spread the virus to other housecats. In these experiments, the cats became sick after direct inoculation of virus isolated from a fatal human case, and following the feeding of infected raw chicken. In February 2006, Germany reported that a domestic cat had died from influenza A (H5N1) infection. That cat lived in the northern island of Ruegen, where more than 100 wild birds are believed to have died of the disease. The cat probably got sick by eating an infected bird.

What about infection in large cats, like tigers?
Large cats kept in captivity have been diagnosed with avian influenza as well. In December 2003, two tigers and two leopards that were fed fresh chicken carcasses from a local slaughterhouse died at a zoo in Thailand. An investigation identified avian influenza A (H5N1) in tissue samples. In February and March 2004, the virus was detected in a clouded leopard and white tiger, respectively, both of which died in a zoo near Bangkok . In October 2004, 147 of 441 captive tigers in a zoo in Thailand died or were euthanatized as a result of infection after being fed fresh chicken carcasses. The cats are thought to have gotten sick from eating infected raw meat. Results of a subsequent investigation suggested that at least some tiger-to-tiger transmission occurred in that facility.

Can cats spread H5N1 to people?
There is no evidence to date that cats can spread H5N1 to humans. No cases of avian influenza in humans have been linked to exposure to sick cats, and no outbreaks among populations of cats have been reported. All of the influenza A (H5N1) infections in cats reported to date appear to have been associated with outbreaks in domestic or wild birds and acquired through ingestion of raw meat from an infected bird.

What is the risk to humans or other species from cats infected with avian influenza H5N1 virus?
There is no evidence to date that cats can spread H5N1 to humans. No cases of avian influenza in humans have been linked to exposure to sick cats, and no outbreaks among populations of cats have been reported. All of the influenza A (H5N1) infections in cats reported to date appear to have been associated with outbreaks in domestic or wild birds and acquired through ingestion of raw infected meat.

What is the current risk that a cat in the United States will become infected with influenza A (H5N1)?
As long as there is no influenza A (H5N1) in the United States, there is no risk of a U.S. cat becoming infected with this disease. The virus circulating in Asia, Europe and Africa has not yet entered the United States. CDC is working closely with domestic and international partners to continually monitor this situation and will provide additional information to the public as it becomes available.

If avian influenza A (H5N1) is identified in the United States, how can I protect my cat?
As long as there is no H5N1 influenza in the United States, at this time there is no risk of a U.S. cat becoming infected with this disease. In Europe, however, where H5N1 has been reported in wild birds, poultry, several cats, and a stone marten (a member of the weasel family), the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control has issued preliminary recommendations for cat owners living in H5N1-affected areas. Additionally, the Food and Agriculture Organization has produced guidance for areas where H5N1 HPAI has been diagnosed or is suspected in poultry or wild birds.

Where can I find out more information about avian influenza infection in cats?
For more information about avian influenza in cats, see Avian influenza — Frequently asked questions (from the American Veterinary Medical Association) and H5N1 in Cats (from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).

Cans dogs be infected with avian influenza?
While dogs are not usually susceptible to avian influenza viruses, the avian influenza A (H5N1) virus that emerged in Asia in 2003 has been documented to infect other carnivore species (e.g. cats, tigers, leopards, stone martens). This has raised concern that this strain of avian influenza A (H5N1) virus may be capable of infecting dogs. An unpublished study carried out in 2005 by the National Institute of Animal Health in Bangkok indicated that dogs could be infected with the virus, but no associated disease was detected. This limited information is not enough to determine definitively whether dogs are susceptible to the virus. CDC is coordinating with USDA, veterinary associations, and other partners domestically and internationally on this issue and will provide additional information to the public as it becomes available.

How would dogs be infected with avian influenza A (H5N1)?
There is not enough information available about avian influenza A (H5N1) infection in dogs to know how infection would occur. Affected domestic cats in Europe appear to have become infected by feeding upon raw infected poultry or wild birds. If dogs are susceptible to avian influenza A (H5N1), infection may be by the same route.

What is the current risk that a dog in the United States will become infected with avian influenza A (H5N1)?
As long as there is no influenza A (H5N1) in the United States, there is no risk of a U.S. dog becoming infected with this disease. The virus circulating in Asia, Europe and Africa has not yet entered the United States. CDC is working closely with domestic and international partners to continually monitor this situation and will provide additional information to the public as it becomes available.


NOTE: Answers to other questions can be found in the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on the World Health Organization (WHO) website.

 

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