Keep Cats Away from Bird Flu Areas, U.N. Agency Says
ROME -- Cats should be kept away from areas affected by the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus as they can pick up and spread the disease, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said on Thursday.
Cats at infected farms should be kept indoors, the agency said, as evidence from Indonesia and other countries showed they could catch bird flu from eating infected poultry or wild birds.
The worst fear is that cats could become a host for the virus where it could mutate into a form that may cause a human pandemic, the FAO said.
"Cats could act as intermediary hosts in the spread of the H5N1 virus between species," said FAO's Assistant Director-General Alexander Mueller.
"(Virus) growth in cats might help the H5N1 virus to adapt into a more highly infectious strain that could spark an influenza pandemic."
An outbreak of H5N1 in eastern England last weekend has led several countries to ban poultry exports from Britain which had not been affected by the virus before.
More than 30 countries have reported outbreaks in the past year, in most cases involving wild birds such as swans. Cats have been infected in Thailand, Iraq, Russia, the European Union and Turkey, FAO said.
Bird flu remains essentially an animal disease but has killed 166 people since it reeemerged in Asia in 2003. Almost all the victims have become infected after contact with sick birds.