The discovery of Avian influenza in cats and dogs has heightened concerns about a virus that experts had thought was basically infecting chickens, ducks and other fowl.
Health experts have called for closer monitoring of the H5N1 virus in domestic animals after Indonesian scientists detected it in stray cats near poultry markets in some parts of the country. They worry that if the virus adapts to mammals it could more easily spread among people. A survey by Chairul Anwar Nidom, a scientist at Airlangga University in Surabaya, found H5N1 antibodies in 20 percent of 500 stray cats near poultry markets in four areas in Java, including Jakarta, and one area in Sumatra where there had been recent human H5N1 cases or outbreaks of the disease in poultry.
The survey said the findings suggested the cats had probably been infected because they ate infected poultry. In another case, Gusti Ngurah Mahardika, a virologist at Udayana University, surveyed pigs and domestic animals in Bali between September and December last year and found the virus in two dogs and a cat. Although the cases in cats and dogs are not widespread, scientists are concerned.
Lo Winglok, an infectious disease expert in Hong Kong, said it's bad news whenever the H5N1 jumps species.
"With more species of mammals infected, that could be a sign that the virus is mutating to adapt to mammalian hosts. If they are adapting to mammals, they could be on the way to adapting to humans, to become a human virus," Lo warned.
Musni Suatmodjo, Indonesia's animal health director, said there had been reports about the virus in cats and pigs in Indonesia, but had no details.
"Informally, there's information that bird flu infection in cats was found in Bandung and Bali. We also found another case in pigs in Yogyakarta," he told Reuters.