Following the discovery last week of at least 3 cats infected with the H5N6 virus in Gyeonggi Province (see Korean CDC Statement On H5N6 In Cats) - MAFRA's Quarantine division has reportedly announced plans to test stray cats in and around multiple areas that have been hit by avian influenza.
So far, no official announcement has been posted on the MAFRA website, but there are numerous media reports - in both English and Korean - on their announcement.
First some excerpts from the Korean Times, after which I'll return with a bit more.
By Kim RahnQuarantine authorities will test stray cats for avian influenza after a highly pathogenic strain of bird flu was found in three dead cats.The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said Tuesday that by next week the quarantine authorities will catch and test 10 stray cats each from seven regions hit hard by the infectious virus that has resulted in the culling of more than 30 million chickens nationwide.
The decision comes after a bird-to-mammal infection of the H5N6 virus was confirmed in Pocheon, Gyeonggi Province, Saturday, with the deaths of domestic cats. The authorities suspect they were infected after eating birds infected with the virus.So far, other mammals near the virus-affected chicken farms, including 1,830 dogs, pigs and cats, have tested negative.
The risk of human infection via infected cats is believed low, but small mammals are viewed as plausible intermediate hosts for the virus, and so it is important to determine just how prevalent the virus has become peridomestic animals (including cats, dogs, pigs, rodents, etc.)
While all of the reports I've seen agree on the plan to test cats, I've seen some divergence in the number of cats (and locations) that will be tested. Hopefully we'll get an official statement clarifying those numbers.
You may recall that virologist Chairul Anwar Nidom of the Institute of Tropical Disease, Airlangga University demonstrated that 20% of feral cats he tested in Jakarta in 2006 carried antibodies to the H5N1 virus (see here).
Nidom's team also reported finding the H5N1 virus in pigs (see When Pigs Flu).
Given the sudden increase in the spread of the clade 18.104.22.168. H5 virus by migratory birds in both Europe (H5N8) and Asia (H5N6), it is important to determine if its ability to infect non-avian hosts has changed in any way.
In other news, MAFRA has published their daily update, showing more than 30 million birds have now been killed or destroyed in the past 7 weeks due to avian flu.
While the number of new outbreaks in Korea appears to be slowing, we are just barely into avian flu season (which can run to the end of spring), and so the crisis is far from over.