Sunday, July 21, 2024

Hen flu can infect cats. What does that imply for his or her individuals?


Cats are getting — and dying of — hen flu. That’s sparking worries concerning the danger that the continuing outbreak of extremely pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza poses for these feline furballs and their house owners.

This outbreak has been sickening and killing wild birds and poultry in the US since 2021 (SN: 5/16/24). H5N1 has additionally jumped right into a wide variety of mammals, together with livestock resembling goats, dairy cattle and, most just lately, 4 alpacas in Idaho (SN: 3/6/23; SN: 4/3/24).

When hen flu viruses infect mammals, the viruses can get random mutations that assist them replicate higher in mammalian cells. That raises the chance that the avian influenza may adapt to unfold simply in individuals.

There’s no sign that the virus has developed the kind of adjustments wanted to transmit simply from person-to-person but, the U.S. Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention reported Might 24. Most individuals who’ve gotten contaminated to this point have been these with shut contact with poultry or cattle.

However having hen flu present up in home cats would possibly give the virus a extra intimate route for infecting individuals. In any case, individuals don’t often cuddle chickens and cows the way in which they do kitties.

Right here’s what’s and isn’t recognized about H5N1 hen flu in cats and different frequent pets.

How do cats get hen flu?

Out of doors cats could get contaminated after catching wild birds, says Meghan Davis, a veterinarian and environmental epidemiologist on the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg Faculty of Public Well being. “Whether or not they eat them or not, that might be adequate contact.”

The weight loss program individuals feed their pets may additionally put cats in danger. “Uncooked meat diets, and particularly raw poultry diets, have been related to a few of these circumstances,” she says.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has found viral particles in muscle and different tissue from a dairy cow that was being culled, the company mentioned Might 24. Not one of the meat entered the meals provide, however the incident highlights that uncooked beef would possibly include the virus. (For anybody nervous about their summer season cookout, cooking burgers spiked with H5N1 to 145° Fahrenheit (medium) or increased was sufficient to inactivate the virus, the company says.)

Water, footwear or gear contaminated with bird droppings additionally may be potential sources of an infection, based on the World Group for Animal Well being.

And now, uncooked milk — milk that hasn’t been pasteurized to kill micro organism and viruses — has grow to be an avenue for an infection after H5N1 confirmed up in dairy cattle. Uncooked milk, a few of which is labeled for pet use solely, might be a method that indoor cats that don’t have contact with wild birds or poultry may get contaminated, Davis says.

Some proof means that cats would possibly have the ability to go the an infection to one another, she says.

Can cats die of hen flu?

Sure. Demise charges from H5N1 infections in cats seem like excessive.

This 12 months alone, more than 16 cats in the US are recognized to have contracted H5N1 hen flu, most of them on dairy farms, based on the World Group for Animal Well being. A minimum of 4 have died. In 2022 and 2023, at the very least 13 cats obtained hen flu and about half died. Some had been cats on poultry farms or that had contact with yard rooster flocks that had been contaminated with the virus, however some had been home cats that by some means obtained sick.

The virus has additionally killed at the very least 22 mountain lions and sickened at the very least 10 bobcats, killing at the very least seven of them. A captive leopard in New York and a captive tiger in Nebraska additionally died of hen flu.

The numbers of infections doubtless is increased. As an example, about half of two dozen cats that were fed raw milk from contaminated cattle on one Texas farm earlier this 12 months died, researchers report within the July 2024 Rising Infectious Illnesses. These cats weren’t included within the World Group for Animal Well being report.

The image shows a grid of four squares, each a pinkish tissue sample from a different organ of a cat that was infected with bird flu. Small arrows point out where the virus damaged tissue in the brain (upper left), lungs (upper right), eye (lower right) and heart (lower left). Insets in each image show the virus, which appears dark brown, in each kind of tissue.
Researchers examined cats that died of H5N1 avian influenza after ingesting uncooked milk from contaminated cows on a Texas dairy farm. The virus (darkish brown in insets) had unfold by way of the cats’ our bodies, together with the lungs (higher proper), eye (decrease proper), coronary heart (decrease left) and mind (higher left). The arrows level to numerous lesions or proof of illness within the tissues. As soon as the illness will get to cats’ brains, they usually die.E.R. Burrough et al./Rising Infectious Illnesses 2024

Signs earlier than the cats’ deaths included stiff physique actions, wobbliness, circling, runny noses and blindness. Researchers examined two of the lifeless cats and located proof that the virus had contaminated their complete our bodies. However it might have been mind an infection that killed the cats. “Sadly, it’s not nice information if we get to that time,” Davis says.

Can individuals get hen flu from cats?

It’s attainable, however the danger might be low. In 2016, after working with cats sickened with a special kind of hen flu, a veterinarian in New York City became ill, researchers reported in Medical Infectious Illnesses in 2017.

It’s rare but possible for people to catch bird flu from pets, livestock or wild animals, the CDC says. A dairy farm employee in Texas and one in Michigan each obtained delicate eye infections this 12 months after contact with contaminated dairy cows (SN: 5/16/24). Within the Michigan case, the employee obtained splashed within the face with uncooked milk containing the virus.

On Might 30, the CDC introduced that one other dairy farm employee in Michigan obtained sick after contact with contaminated cows and developed respiratory signs, together with a cough and watery eyes. That case was from a special farm the place the particular person with the attention an infection labored. The coughing dairy employee is isolating at residence and their household and coworkers haven’t developed signs, the company mentioned.

Farm employees could also be youthful and more healthy than the typical particular person, Davis says. Much less clear is whether or not actually inclined individuals, resembling older individuals or ones with weakened immune methods, who reside with cats might need the next danger of getting contaminated, she says.

The precise odds of catching hen flu from animals hasn’t but been established, even for employees uncovered to giant numbers of sick cattle or poultry. However public well being businesses stress that the chance of getting hen flu is low for individuals who aren’t uncovered to contaminated birds and their droppings or to contaminated animals.

Can canines or different pets get hen flu?

Sure. Canines are most likely inclined to getting hen flu, Davis says. Their canine cousins red foxes have frequently been victims of H5N1.

In a single examine of canines, 4 of 194 looking canines that had retrieved waterfowl developed antibodies against H5N1 bird flu, researchers report within the June 2024 Rising Infectious Illnesses. That implies that canines can get contaminated with hen flu. Not one of the canines obtained sick and so they didn’t go the virus to different canines of their households, the group discovered.

Different small mammal pets, particularly ferrets or mink, are additionally susceptible.

How can pet house owners maintain their cats secure?

Hold cats inside away from birds, Davis advises. For cats that go outdoors, restrict their publicity to hen feces, she says. “Hold the hen feeders out of the catio.”

A gray tiger domestic cat stalks white bird on a window ledge with only a closed window keeping the cat inside and preventing the cat from getting closer to its prey.
Holding cats inside can scale back the possibilities of them getting hen flu from wild birds, together with pigeons and sparrows that will carry the virus.Santiaga/istock/getty photos plus

The World Group for Animal Well being advises cleansing footwear after strolling in locations the place there are hen droppings, disinfecting surfaces the place footwear are saved and holding footwear away from cats.

Don’t feed cats meals, particularly uncooked poultry and milk, which may include reside hen flu virus, Davis says. “The underside line shouldn’t be feeding uncooked milk merchandise to pets is as vital as not consuming them yourselves.”

There are not any hen flu vaccines accessible for cats proper now.

What ought to I do if my cat brings residence a lifeless hen?

Don’t contact the hen for those who may help it. If it’s a must to transfer the hen, placed on a masks and gloves and goggles, Davis says. When you don’t have protecting gear a stick and a field will do. Wash your fingers after dealing with the hen.

Monitor the cat and notify your vet if signs seem. The incubation interval in cats tends to be quick, with signs showing two to a few days after an infection.

When you discover giant numbers of lifeless birds or different animals, Davis advises notifying animal management authorities. “Many states could have both a state wildlife veterinarian or different reporting hotlines for lifeless wild animals,” she says. These businesses can do testing to see if H5N1 is current and might get rid of the lifeless birds or animals.

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