Monday, March 06, 2006

Austrian Cats Test Positive for Bird Flu


More on the bird flu transmission can be found at:

Austrian Cats Test Positive for Bird Flu

By MELISSA EDDY, Associated Press Writer 57 minutes ago

Several cats have tested positive for the deadly strain of bird flu in Austria's first reported case of the disease spreading to an animal other than a bird, state authorities said Monday.

The World Health Organization called bird flu a greater global challenge than any previous infectious disease, costing global agriculture more than $10 billion and affecting the livelihoods of 300 million farmers.

Poland reported its first outbreak of the disease, saying Monday that laboratory tests confirmed that two wild swans had died of the lethal strain.

Dr. Margaret Chan, who is spearheading WHO's efforts against bird flu, told disease experts meeting in Geneva to discuss bird flu preparations that the organization's top priority was to keep the deadly strain from mutating into a form easily passed between humans. That could trigger a global pandemic.

Since February, the virus has spread to birds in 17 new countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, she said.

"We truly feel that this present threat and any other threat like it is likely to stretch our global systems to the point of collapse," said Dr. Mike Ryan, director of epidemic and pandemic alert and response at WHO.

WHO spokeswoman Maria Cheng said experts hope to isolate outbreaks and establish agreements allowing international health authorities to respond quickly, testing viruses and putting in place measures to contain the disease.

Two or three cats, all of which are still alive, have tested positive for the deadly H5N1 strain of the disease in Austria, Hans Seitinger, the top agriculture official in the southern state of Styria, told state broadcaster ORF.

German authorities last month confirmed that a cat on the Baltic Sea island of Ruegen had succumbed to the deadly virus, which it is believed to have caught by eating an infected bird.

That would be consistent with a pattern of disease transmission seen in wild cats in Asia.

German officials have warned pet owners to keep their cats indoors and dogs on a leash in areas where the disease has been detected

Austria confirmed the nation's first case of H5N1 in a wild bird last month and has since detected several dozen cases in birds, including 29 in Styria alone.

Some of those cases were in chickens taken to an animal shelter near Graz, the capital of Styria. The shelter also houses cats. It was not immediately clear if the sick cats came from the shelter.

According to the World Health Organization, several tigers and snow leopards in a zoo and several house cats were infected with H5N1 during outbreaks in Asia in 2003 and 2004.

Poland announced that the infected swans were found dead Thursday in Torun, about 120 miles northwest of Warsaw. Samples were being sent to Britain for further tests.

According to the latest World Health Organization figures, the H5N1 strain has killed at least 94 people since 2003, mostly in Asia, and devastated poultry stocks. Scientists are concerned that the virus could mutate into a form easily spread between people, sparking a pandemic.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, based in Rome, reportedly criticized wealthy nations for a slow response to the bird flu threat. FAO head Jacques Diouf said "governments have sinned by failing to look ahead and have a sense of solidarity," according to the French daily Liberation.

"Developed countries thought that this was going on in Asia, that it was far away and that we were exaggerating the risks of the epidemic," Diouf was quoted as saying.

They "only began to respond when the flu reached Turkey" two years later, he reportedly said.

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