Poland is the first country to report a “high number” of cats infected with bird flu across a large area, the WHO said on Monday, adding that the risk of human infection remains low.
The World Health Organization said that since Polish health authorities notified it last month of unusual cat deaths across the country, 29 cats had tested positive for H5N1 bird flu.
They were among 46 cats and one captive caracal tested for the virus, he said, adding that 14 of the infected animals were reported to have been euthanized, while another 11 died.
The last death was reported on June 30
“It is currently unknown from what source cats are exposed to the virus and epizootic investigations are underway,” WHO said in a statement.
Some cats developed severe symptoms including difficulty breathing, bloody diarrhea and neurological signs, with rapid deterioration and death in some cases.
As of late 2021, Europe has had its worst ever outbreak of bird flu, with serious outbreaks also occurring in North and South America.
This has resulted in the killing of thousands of poultry worldwide, many of them with the H5N1 strain of the virus, which first appeared in 1996.
Recently there has been a worrying spike in infections in mammals.
The United Nations health agency indicated that sporadic infection of cats with H5N1 had previously been reported.
“But this is the first report of a high number of infected cats over a wide geographic area within a country,” he said.
As of July 12, no human contacts of infected cats have been reported, the WHO said, adding that the surveillance period for all contacts had ended.
He emphasized that the risk of human infections after exposure to infected cats was assessed to be low for the general public in Poland.
Meanwhile the risk to cat owners, veterinarians and others who may be exposed to H5N1-infected cats more regularly without using personal protective equipment was considered low to moderate, he said.
Bird flu infections in humans are rare, but when they do occur they can cause serious disease with a high mortality rate.
Human cases of H5N1 usually result from direct or indirect exposure to live or dead poultry or contaminated environments.
As of 2020, the WHO said it had received 12 reports of human H5N1 cases worldwide. Four were severe cases, and eight were mild or asymptomatic.
© Agence France-Presse