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Probe Examines Role Of Cats In Bird Flu Infection

UN Health Agency To Probe Possible Role Of Cats In Bird Flu Infection Of Humans

The United Nations health agency is investigating reports that bird flu, which experts say could mutate into a potentially deadly human pandemic under certain conditions, has now jumped the species barrier to infect cats.

This is an extraordinary finding because it was thought cats could not be infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1), the strain that has already killed some two dozen people in Asia this year and resulted in the deaths or culling of more than 100 million birds, World Health Organization (WHO) official Dick Thompson told a news briefing in Geneva today.

According to a report in Science magazine, the cats further went on to infect other cats. WHO will now study cats to see if they played any role in the human disease. There is no indication as of now that they did, but it is something that WHO will have to take a deeper look at, Mr. Thompson said.

Only last week WHO called for additional studies on bird flu and other influenza viruses in pigs. Pigs can be infected with both avian and human influenza. The agency has warned that the co-circulation of bird, human, and pig viruses could lead to a genetic exchange of material that could set off a human pandemic.

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