Friday, July 07, 2023

ECDC Update On H5N1 In Cats - Poland


Official updates have been slow to come from Poland's Chief Veterinary Officer over the past 7 days, with apparently a lot of damage control going on. The GLW's first update in a week (see translation below) is mostly concerned with what they are calling `journalistic provocations' by the media, although they also confirm 3 more positive tests since June 30th.  

Special Communiqué of the GLW on the disease of cats

Announcements 2023-07-07
Out of concern for public trust in our institution, the Chief Veterinary Officer would like to inform you that in recent days there have been two attempts at journalistic provocations related to the intention to manipulate the determination of the source of the disease occurring among cats. According to the information provided by the local veterinary inspection bodies of the Lesser Poland Voivodship and the PIW in Puławy, food samples delivered for laboratory tests, e.g. to the laboratory in Krakow and Puławy were delivered by active journalists who did not disclose the source of the materials provided for testing.

Any attempts to manipulate the activities of state authorities may make it impossible to determine the actual cause of the disease. The Chief Veterinary Officer would like to emphasize that detecting the source of feline influenza requires calm analysis and investigation of the truth. At the same time, GLW would like to inform you that from June 30. 14 samples were tested at the National Reference Laboratory for avian influenza, of which 3 samples from sick cats were positive for the genetic material of the H5N1 virus.

Poland is a major exporter of poultry to the EU, and anything that calls into question the safety of their products is an economic and political nightmare. A certain amount of bureaucratic push-back is to be expected.

While we've seen a lot of assurances on the safety of Poland's poultry, we've heard little else officially. 

The ECDC has published - for the second week running - a summary of what is known, and an updated risk assessment in today's Communicable Disease Threats Report.  As we saw a week ago, there is too little presently known about the situation to make a full assessment. 

1. Avian influenza in domestic cats - Poland -2023 


Update On 4 July 2023, media sources from Poland published the study of the Polish virologist Prof Krzysztof Pyrć and two other researchers in the country who tested five samples of meat collected from some owners of sick or dead cats. One of the samples tested positive for A(H5N1) influenza virus. 

On 5 July 2023, Polish authorities informed ECDC that a total of 45 samples from sick or dead cats were tested, of which 24 were positive for influenza A(H5N1) virus. Furthermore, Polish authorities mentioned that 13 cats were fed with raw poultry meat.

On 6 July 2023, media sources reported that in Italy (Lombardy region) five dogs and one cat in a poultry farm tested positive for influenza A(H5N1) virus. The poultry farm is experiencing an outbreak of avian flu. In December 2022, one cat tested positive for influenza A(H5N1) virus in France according to the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety – ANSES (see link).


Since 23 June 2023, media sources reported on several deaths of domestic cats (at least 70) in Poland for which investigations are ongoing. On 26 June, the Polish Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) announced in a press release that nine samples tested in the National Veterinary Institute in Puławy, were positive for A(H5N1) influenza virus. Preliminary studies have ruled out a connection to the avian influenza outbreaks in seagulls, that Poland registered in recent weeks. No source of infection has been identified yet. An intersectoral meeting between animal and human public health services took place on 26 June.

The press release by the Polish CVO included advice to the public to prevent the contact of pet cats with other animals, including keeping them inside homes and avoid contact with footwear used outside. Enhanced hand hygiene for all pet cat owners is also advised.

On 28 June 2023, the Polish CVO issued a press release notifying about a total of 16 cat samples which tested positive for influenza A(H5N1) in the country. The positive samples originated from many cities in Poland (Gdańsk, Gdynia, Pruszcz Gdański, Lublin, Bydgoszcz, Poznań and Warsaw). 

On 30 June 2023, the Polish CVO updated in a press release that 29 samples were tested, of which 20 were from different cities in the country (Gdańsk, Gdynia, Poznań, Lublin, Pruszcz Gdański, Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki, Bydgoszcz, Wrocław, Rzeszów County, and the vicinity of Zamość). 

The genome of the detected virus from cats in Poland is available on GISAID (EPI_ISL_17949824) and exhibits two mutations, molecular markers to mammal adaptation. Genetic data suggest that the sick cats may have been exposed to the same source of infection. 

Media sources from Poland cite the director of the National Veterinary Institute in Puławy stating that, 'they have detected two mutations that indicate that the A(H5N1) virus is evolving to multiply more easily in mammals'. 

The World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) issued a statement on the Polish cat outbreak mentioning that the severe and rapid course of the infection is consistent with reports of A(H5N1) infection in the Felidae family, and noting that several cases of infection in cats with influenza A(H5N1) have been reported from Europe and North America in the context of the ongoing panzootic.

WOAH stressed the need for more investigations and stated that since the cases include both stray and pet cats, exposure to sick wild birds is not considered a likely transmission mode. In addition, the wide geographical distribution of cases suggests that the primary mode of spread in these cases is not cat-to-cat transmission but rather some other kind of common source. The statement also mentions the need to isolate any suspected cases from other pets due to potential shedding from the gastrointestinal tract, and the need for appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for the handlers of such animals. 

ECDC assessment: 

Several uncertainties currently exist regarding the source of infection, the potential of feline-to-feline and feline-to- human transmission of the particular A(H5N1) influenza virus strain, as well as regarding the severity of the disease. Taking into consideration the information and genomic data available until now and the fact that no human cases have been reported so far related to this event, ECDC assesses the current risk to the general public as low. 

However, the risk is considered moderate for persons exposed to sick and/or dead cats confirmed with A(H5N1) infection, particularly if they belong to a vulnerable population group (e.g. immunocompromised people). Considering the existing uncertainties, this assessment is preliminary and will be reviewed as soon as more information becomes available. 


ECDC is monitoring this event and has contacted Polish public health authorities and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for further investigation.


Hopefully we'll get some better answers in the days ahead.