Bird flu outbreak kills nearly 40 cats as shelter forced to quarantine

A bird flu outbreak has claimed the lives of nearly 40 cats in the capital of South Korea and sparked a national investigation.

The cat’s shelter in Seoul has been quarantined following what has been described as a “highly unusual” outbreak of the disease.

South Korea’s agriculture ministry today confirmed that tests have confirmed H5N1 avian influenza in two of the cats at the shelter.

The cats were tested after they started to show symptoms of a respiratory infection.

At least 38 cats have died after suffering from a high fever, loss of appetite and other symptoms.

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According to South Korean media, roughly one or two cats have died at the shelter since last month. 

Most of the cats have been cremated. It is unclear whether any other samples are being tested for the disease.

An action response has been trigged at the shelter, and monitoring has been stepped up for people who have had contact with the cats, a statement from South Korea’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (MAFRA) said.

No symptoms have been identified in any of those who came into contact with the cats.

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International news agency BNO reported the high rate of death among the cats as “highly unusual”.

Health officials have also expanded surveillance of animal breeding facilities within 10 kilometers of the shelter, with inspections planned for animal protection centers nationwide.

There is no information currently on how the cats may have contracted the virus.

The new detection comes shortly after an outbreak of bird flu among cats in Poland was also reported, with 34 across eight provinces in the country being found positive for H5N1.

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11 of these cats died of the disease, while 14 were euthanized. It is not yet clear if the virus in South Korea is the same as that in Poland.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said of the Polish outbreak: “H5N1 bird flu viruses are widespread globally among wild birds and domestic poultry and have caused sporadic infections in mammals.

“It is important to note that a review of the genetic sequences of the viruses found in cats in Poland does not show any reason to change CDC’s risk assessment to human health, which remains low for the general public. Further, there is no evidence of cat-to cat-transmission.”

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