Home HEALTH Avian Influenza Expands to Cats and Dogs Across 31 States: Essential Information

Avian Influenza Expands to Cats and Dogs Across 31 States: Essential Information

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Recent weeks have seen a worrying surge in zoonotic transmission of a highly infectious strain of avian influenza, commonly referred to as bird flu. Initially confined to wild birds and domestic poultry, the outbreak has now expanded to affect humans across four reported cases in the U.S. Moreover, the virus has been detected in cats across 31 states, with sporadic cases also identified in dogs. This development raises significant concerns regarding animal health and potential human exposure, particularly among pet owners. Here’s what you need to know:

According to recent reports, the infection has spread among various animals in 12 states, including cows, mice, foxes, mountain lions, and alpacas. Despite initial assurances that dairy products would remain unaffected, the virus has spread widely among dairy cows nationwide, impacting over 90 herds in recent months. The H5N1 virus has also caused secondary infections in poultry and dairy products, as well as in three farm workers exposed to the disease. However, the primary concern remains the emerging cases of the virus in domestic cats and dogs.

The outbreak has reached domestic cats in nine states, with nearly 21 reported cases since March 1st. As infections spread within dairy farms, some cats exhibited symptoms of illness, which initially went unnoticed. Researchers have long known that domestic cats, especially vulnerable to avian influenza such as H5N1, are at significant risk. “Domestic cats are highly susceptible to avian influenza, particularly H5N1,” noted Kristen Coleman, a researcher at the University of Maryland, as reported by the NY Times.

Feral, barn, and pet cats have tested positive for bird flu, with a smaller number of cases also identified in dogs. While infections in these animals remain relatively rare, the severity of illness caused by H5N1, which emerged as a new strain in 2020, underscores the need for serious consideration.

There is a slight risk of human infection if their pets contract the virus, although the likelihood is currently deemed low by the CDC. Experts suggest that the H5N1 virus could potentially transmit through a cat’s saliva, feces, or other bodily fluids. Cats infected with the virus typically exhibit symptoms such as fever, reduced appetite, and respiratory issues like nasal discharge, difficulty breathing, and pneumonia. Additionally, neurological symptoms such as stiffness, tremors, and seizures have been observed.

Dr. Johnson emphasized that there is no current evidence suggesting cats contribute to the virus’s spread on dairy farms. Further research is necessary to fully understand the potential for cats to transmit the disease to humans.