(Kyodo News). A case of cat infection by the H5N1 strain of bird flu has been detected in Indonesia, a World Health Organization medical officer in Jakarta said Monday.
"We have evidence of one cat in Indonesia that has already been infected by this virus," said Steven Bjorge, medical officer for the WHO's Communicable Disease Section.
Bjorge, speaking in a panel discussion at the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents' Club, said he thinks the cat "was infected by probably eating contaminated birds."
"This is a very rare disease. It's extremely difficult for this virus to be passed on to humans," he said, downplaying concerns about cross-species transmission of the virus.
There are no recorded cases of cat-to-human H5N1 infection anywhere in the world.
Trisatya Naipospos, the government's top adviser on H5N1 strategy, told the panel there have been unpublished studies of other cats in Indonesia being tested positive for the H5N1 strain of bird flu.
There have been a number of cases of feline infection by the dangerous H5N1 strain of avian flu outside of Indonesia, all of which appear to have been associated with outbreaks in domestic or wild birds and acquired through ingestion of raw meat from an infected bird.
In December 2003, two tigers and two leopards that were fed with fresh chicken carcasses died of H5N1 infection at a zoo in Thailand. In October 2004, 147 of 441 captive tigers in another zoo in Thailand died or were euthanized as a result of infection after being fed with fresh chicken carcasses.
Civet cats have died of bird flu in Vietnam, while earlier this year a domestic cat in Germany became the first case of a European Union mammal dying of bird flu. There have also been cases of martens, pigs and ferrets being infected.
Naipospos genetic analysis shows the virus isolated from humans is exactly the same as that found in birds, "so we can say here now that our problem is still with birds, with poultry."
Indonesia's Health Ministry says the WHO has confirmed 52 cases of humans infected by bird flu in Indonesia, of which 39 resulted in death. But the WHO says there have been 50 cases with 38 deaths in the country.
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