BERLIN – The deadly strain of bird flu has been found in a cat in Germany, officials said Tuesday, the first time the virus has been identified in an animal other than a bird in central Europe.
Also Tuesday, officials said the United States has banned poultry and live bird shipments from a region of France where lethal bird flu was found in turkeys.
German health officials urged cat owners to keep pets indoors after the dead cat was discovered over the weekend on the Baltic Sea island of Ruegen, where most of the more than 100 wild birds infected by the H5N1 strain have been found.
The cat is believed to have eaten an infected bird, said Thomas Mettenleiter, head of Germany’s Friedrich Loeffler Institute. That is in keeping with a pattern of disease transmission seen in wild cats in Asia.
Mettenleiter insisted, however, that there was no danger to humans. There have been no documented cases of a cat transmitting the virus to people.
However, Maria Cheng of the World Health Organization in Geneva said there was not enough information on how the disease is transmitted to be sure. She noted that tigers and snow leopards in a zoo in Thailand became infected after being fed chicken carcasses.
“But we don’t know what this means for humans. We don’t know if they would play a role in transmitting the disease. We don’t know how much virus the cats would excrete, how much people would need to be exposed to before they would fall ill,” Cheng said.
In addition to the large cats infected in Thailand, three house cats near Bangkok were infected with the virus in February 2004. Officials said one cat ate a dead chicken on a farm where there was bird flu, and the virus apparently spread to the others. WHO said tests on three civets that died in captivity in Vietnam last June also detected H5N1.
WHO on Monday raised its official tally of human bird flu cases worldwide to 173; 93 people have died.
The move by the United States to ban poultry from the Ain region of France is largely symbolic because the United States does not import poultry from that area.
Other countries, such as Japan and Hong Kong, have suspended imports of all French poultry.