16 cats have been confirmed to be infected with the H5N1 subtype of avian influenza in Poland, the country's Chief Veterinary Officer announced this week, as reports of mammals being infected with the virus continue to increase.
The infected cats were found in Poznań, the tri-city metropolitan area, Lublin, Gdańsk, Gdynia, Pruszcz Gdański, Warsaw, and Bydgoszcz locations separated by distances of hundreds of kilometers.
According to the Chief Veterinary Officer, initial investigations found that the virus the cats were infected with is not the same strain as the virus that has been infecting gulls in the country in recent weeks.
The source of infection for the cats had not been identified as of Monday.
The Polish General Veterinary Inspectorate is working to establish a protocol for monitoring bird flu spread in cats and advised residents to keep cats indoors if possible, prevent contact between cats and wild animals, prevent cats from coming into contact with footwear, feed cats only with food from known sources, and wash their hands after coming into contact with animals.
Mass die-offs of mammals continue due to bird flu
The reports from Poland come as reports of mammals being infected with avian influenza continue to spread across the globe, with mass die-offs of seals and sea lions reported in Russia and the Americas and dozens of foxes, skunks, dolphins, raccoons, cats, ferrets and other mammals found to be infected as well.
Dogs, cats and other pets have been affected by the outbreak in multiple countries as well, including the US and Canada.
In a recent interview with AFP, Ian Brown, virology head at the UK's Animal and Plant Health Agency, stated that it would take "two or three minor changes in one protein of the viruses" for the bird flu to become more adapted to humans.
Since 2021, Europe and the Americas have been suffering from a continuous outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza which has been described as "the largest-ever" outbreak on all three continents. The outbreak, as well as other strains of the virus, has also spread to other locations around the globe.
In South Africa, two outbreaks of the H7 subtype of avian influenza were found recently, Reuters reported on Monday.
Thousands of wild birds, over 58 million domesticated birds, and nearly 200 mammals have been confirmed to have been affected by the bird flu in the US alone. In Europe, tens of thousands of wild and domestic birds were found to be infected in over 24 countries, with many sea birds affected.
Human cases of H5N1 have been detected in the UK, US, Cambodia, Ecuador and Chile.
European CDC advises hospitals on how to monitor patients for bird flu
On Monday, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) proposed new instructions for strengthening hospital surveillance for severe human bird flu infections, noting that "some epidemiological changes observed recently could contribute to a wider exposure of the general population to infected sick and dead wild birds (and mammalian species)."
Russia claims bird flu may be spreading in Ukraine's Kherson
Additionally, on Tuesday, Russia’s Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Supervision warned that avian influenza may be spreading in the Kherson Region of Ukraine as the conflict and the collapse of the Kakhovka dam complicate surveillance efforts, according to TASS.
The Russian agency additionally accused Ukraine of "hiding the real situation, particularly in terms of cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza in gull colonies."
Last week, the US Department of Agriculture announced that it would be providing $502 million to prepare for additional outbreaks of avian influenza in the US.