Cats can catch avian influenza HN51 by eating infected birds, and can pass it on to each other, according to a report published in Science this week. But experts are divided over the threat posed to humans by the discovery.

Thijs Kuiken's team at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam investigated anecdotal reports of cats dying from the flu virus–unusual because cats are not normally susceptible to influenza type A infections. "One of the messages [on ProMED-mail] reported that in an area where poultry were infected with H5N1 virus there was a household of 15 cats of which 14 died–and one of those had been eating a dead chicken," Kuiken told The Scientist.

Kuiken's team simulated the infection conditions in the laboratory by feeding infected chicks to cats. All of the cats developed inflammation in the lungs, which in some cases were quite severe. "In fact one of...

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to more than 35 years of archives, as well as TS Digest, digital editions of The Scientist, feature stories, and much more!
Already a member?