Thursday, April 06, 2006


By Darryl Mason

Dutch researchers are raising the alarm about the increasing number of domestic cats in Europe and Asia who are dying of bird flu.

Experiments on cats undertaken at Rotterdam's Erasmus Medical Centre indicate that cats may be acting as 'gateways' in passing the avian influenza virus from infected birds to humans.

Not only that, the researchers claim "cats could play a role in allowing the virus to change in such a way that the feared human pandemic could become a reality.

Writing in the journal Nature, the researchers said, 'Apart from the role that cats may play in H5N1 virus transmission to other species, they may be involved in helping the virus to adapt to efficient human-to-human transmission."

And that is bad news for humans. There are almost as many domestic cats in the world as there are human beings, but cats are more likely to catch the avian influenza virus on exposure.

The World Health Organisation has distanced itself from the ca-thuman virus link, and issued a statement in February saying there was "no present evidence that domestic cats play a role in the transmission cycle of H5N1 viruses.'

Experimnets showed the H5N1 virus had an usually high death rate in domestic cats, and the researchers report highlighted the fact that cats can become infected after contact with wild birds and are also capable of passing it onto other cats.

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