South Korea's agriculture ministry today announced that tests have confirmed H5N1 avian influenza in two cats at a shelter in Seoul, according to a statement translated and posted by Avian Flu Diary (AFD), an infectious disease news blog.
The cats were tested after they showed respiratory infection symptoms, and tests results today confirmed H5N1.
According to a South Korean media report, since June about one or two cat deaths each day were reported from the shelter.
The findings have triggered response actions at the shelter and stepped-up monitoring in people who had contact with the cats, according to the statement from South Korea's Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (MAFRA). So far, no symptoms have been identified in any contacts. Health officials implemented emergency quarantine measures at the shelter in Seoul and have expanded surveillance of animal breeding facilities within 10 kilometers of the shelter, with inspections planned for animal protection centers nationwide.
An epidemiologic investigation is under way. So far, there are no details on how the cats may have contracted the virus. Also, it's not clear if the H5N1 virus is the same as the one that was recently detected in Polish cats.
The new detections in cats, coming on the heels of an unusual outbreak in Polish cats across a wide geographic area, raise concerns about the risk of the pets passing the virus to people, which is unlikely but possible, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a recent risk assessment.
Also, the infections in cats add to concerns about the rising number of H5N1 detections in mammal species, including at fur farms in Finland. Scientists are closely watching for genetic clues about whether the virus has changed to more easily infect and spread among mammals.
Regarding the Finnish fur farm outbreaks, the Finnish Food Agency today expanded the transmission zone beyond the affected provinces to include four more provinces, according to a statement translated and posted by AFD. Designation of transmission zones imposes rules designed to curb avian flu transmission, such as a requirement to keep poultry and captive birds indoors. The country has continued to report H5N1 detections in wild birds, mainly gulls and other sea birds, over the summer months.
The fur farm outbreaks mainly involve foxes but also some mink and raccoon dogs, and the number of affected facilities remains at 12.