THE WORLD Health Organisation has released a statement assuring the general public that the recent infection of two domestic cats with avian influenza represents "no new threat" to humans.
Fears that the deadly virus had mutated were allayed by the organisation, "While conclusions are premature... infection in cats is not considered likely to enhance the present risk to human health," the WHO said.
The virus was already capable of infecting domestic felines, the infection of the two domestic cats and a Tiger in Thailand does not signal a mutation, but concerns about the disease ‘jumping’ species are on the rise, especially amongst dog owners.
It is feared in the medical community that should the H5N1 virus mix with the common human influenza virus, that a more resilient mutant form of H5N1 would be able to affect humans, heightening the risk of a pandemic.
As far as dogs are concerned, the present risk of infection is on the same level as humans.
H5N1 does not exist inside the British Isles, but it has appeared in mainland Europe, with highly publicised human fatalities in Turkey and the more recent culling of thousands of Turkeys in France, provoking fears that the virus is capable of reaching our shores.
The Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has urged pet owners not to feed their pets uncooked chicken meat. A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs commented.
"There is no evidence that any type of avian influenza (AI) has passed from avian species to dogs. So even in the unlikely event that the reported dead birds had died from AI, the risk to your dog would be extremely low. Cases of dog 'flu have been recorded in the USA, but in this case the virus is believed to have originated from horse 'flu."
Contrary to assurances from DEFRA, an unpublished study undertaken last year by the National Institute of Animal Health in Bangkok, in which 629 village dogs and 111 cats in the Suphan Buri district of Thailand were tested, it was allegedly found that the H5N1 virus has crossed the species barrier. 160 dogs and 8 cats were found to have antibodies to H5N1.
Instances of dogs being destroyed in Croatia and Nigeria have further heightened speculation that the virus has mutated sufficiently to infect dogs.