Tuesday, July 25, 2023

South Korea: MAFRA Press Release On H5N1 In Cats

Updated 0920 EDT 

There are unconfirmed reports of cats dying at this shelter for several weeks.  While the official number of cats infected sits at 2, it would not be surprising if more infections are discovered as this investigation continues.


South Korea has a lot of experience with avian H5Nx viruses, and takes them very seriously.  In 2014, as H5N1 was in a steep decline, a new, highly virulent H5N8 virus emerged in Korean poultry (likely introduced by migratory birds from China or Siberia) that began H5's resurgence, and eventual spread around the globe. 
In 2014, and again in 2015, dogs on South Korea farms showed signs of HPAI infection (see MAFRA: H5N8 Antibodies Detected In South Korean Dogs (Again)), and in 2018 we looked at a report of H5N6 in domestic cats (see EID Journal: HPAI H5N6 In Domestic Cats - Korea, 2016).
Also in late 2016, we saw the outbreak of H7N2 in hundreds of cats in New York City  (see EID Journal: Avian H7N2 Virus in Human Exposed to Sick Cats), which spilled over into several humans. 

Over the past month, we've been following the slow-rolling release of information on H5N1 in cats in Poland (see CDC Statement On H5N1 In Domestic Cats - Poland).

Today South Korea's Ministry of Agriculture (MAFRA) has announced the detection, and their rapid response, to two cats infected with H5N1 at an animal shelter in Seoul.  First the translated press release, then I'll return with a bit more.

Implementation of emergency quarantine and human infection prevention measures following the confirmation of feline highly pathogenic avian influenza

2023.07.25 18:21:17 Avian Influenza Prevention Division, Quarantine Policy Bureau

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs ( Minister Jeong Hwang-geun , hereinafter the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs ) announced that highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1 type ) was confirmed in two cats at a cat shelter in Yongsan-gu, Seoul .

The cat was suspected of being infected with a respiratory disease, and as a result of confirming the test sample requested by a private inspection agency at the Agriculture, Forestry and Livestock Quarantine Headquarters, it was finally confirmed as highly pathogenic avian influenza on July 25 , 2023 .

In December 2016 , highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N6 type ) was confirmed in domestic cats , and there have been no cases of human infection to date .

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs promptly shared and disseminated the outbreak situation to related organizations such as the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local governments as soon as the confirmed case was confirmed , and implemented emergency quarantine measures such as cleaning , disinfection , and access control at the location through the competent local government ( Seoul Metropolitan City ) and epidemiological investigation at the location through the Agriculture, Forestry and Livestock Quarantine Headquarters .

In addition, according to the confirmation of highly pathogenic avian influenza, quarantine measures such as surveillance and inspection of susceptible animal breeding facilities in the surveillance area ( within 10 km ) , inspection of epidemiologically related persons and facilities, and avian influenza surveillance and inspection of animal protection places and facilities nationwide are planned .

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( Chairman Ji Young-mi ) is promptly implementing measures to prevent human infection of avian influenza , such as investigating contact with cat corpses, together with the competent local government . None of the contacts identified so far have symptoms , and contacts classified as high-risk will be intensively monitored for symptoms for a maximum incubation period of 10 days from the date of last contact .

In addition, as cases of cat outbreaks and cases of human infection through cats are rare, it is requested to comply with active human infection prevention rules in daily life, such as prohibition of contact with dead animals such as wild birds and feces , and hand washing , rather than excessive anxiety . ( See Attachment 1 )

The government announced that it would do its best to prevent human infection while closely cooperating with local governments to prevent further outbreaks .

The H5N1 genotype, or strain, in South Korea likely differs from the one in Poland's cats (or in foxes in Finland), but this event could shed more light on how well the virus spreads between cats.  

It is also a reminder that the panoply of H5Nx viruses around the globe are constantly testing their boundaries, and we should expect more surprises ahead.

Stay tuned.