A dead cat in Germany has tested positive for the H5N1 type of bird flu in the first case in the country of the virus spreading from birds to mammals, the national veterinary laboratory said on Wednesday.
Dangerous contact -- bird flu has spread to cats on the island of Rügen
The cat was found on the Baltic Sea island of Rügen, where the highly pathogenic form of H5N1 bird flu was detected in mid-February, the Federal Research Institute for Animal Health said. There have been more than 100 cases of H5N1-infected wild birds found in Germany.
The finding could increase concern that the virus could spread to other species in Europe as it has in several cases in other parts of the world.
"It has been known for some time that cats can become infected by eating infected birds," Thomas Mettenleiter, president of the institute, told Reuters.
Several large cats in Asian zoos have died after being fed infected birds and domestic cats have been shown to be especially vulnerable to the disease, the institute said.
The H5N1 strain, which has caused illness and even fatalities in humans in Turkey and Asia, has been detected in a leopard, tigers, civet cats and two domestic cats in Thailand. But the World Health Organization said in 2004 that the infection of cats was unlikely to enhance the risks to humans.
Soldiers gather dead birds on the island of Rügen
The the Federal Research Institute for Animal Health has called on cat owners on the German island to keep their animals away from the area where the infection seems to be centered and to take special hygenic precautions.
"A transmission, which cannot be completely ruled out, would only be possible through very intimate contact with an infected animal," said Mettenleiter.
Further spread among birds
In the bird population, the disease was spreading further across Europe and Africa.
France began vaccinating 700,000 domestic ducks and geese on farms after it announced at the weekend the first outbreak of H5N1 bird flu in a European Union poultry farm.
Wild geese fly over a decontamination area in eastern France
The commercial repercussions of the French outbreak were driven home Tuesday as the government announced that some 30 countries were now restricting or banning imports of poultry and poultry products from France.
Sweden for the first time detected in ducks an unidentified strain of bird flu, feared to be the H5N1 strain. Initial tests at Sweden's the National Veterinary Institute "show that we're probably talking about the same virus that has been spreading in Russia and China," said the Swedish agriculture board.
Elsewhere, H5N1 was detected for the first time in Bosnia, the southern German state of Bavaria and a poultry farm in southwestern Russia where 103,000 birds were reported to have died in a week.
Britain said it was unlikely to escape. "I would anticipate that avian flu will arrive at some point in the UK," said British chief scientific advisor Professor Sir David King, predicting that the disease would stay for at least five years.
"We are talking about the possibility of this disease being endemic here in the UK as it did in China. It is a long-term factor," he told the BBC.
But world experts fretted mostly about Africa, where many countries are ill equipped to detect or impede the spread of the disease.
Ethiopian officials were testing some of more than 6,000 chickens that died suddenly on a poultry farm in Endibir 175 kilometers (108 miles) southwest of Addis Ababa. A day earlier the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) reported the first cases of H5N1 in Niger.
A strain of the H5N1 bird flu virus has been found in poultry stocks in Nigeria
In neighboring Nigeria -- where more than 300,000 infected fowl have already died or been slaughtered -- H5N1 was detected in two more states in the north. In the Kenyan capital Nairobi, the authorities said initial
tests on 400 dead chickens showed no sign of bird flu. Cases of H5N1 have also been reported in Egypt.
Human deaths have already been recorded after the disease jumped from bird to human in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Iraq, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam. Some 40 countries have now been hit by the H5N1 strain.