Bird Flu Alarm

2006-03-02-French cat lovers panic after bird flu death

Understanding Avian Influenza

2006-03-02-French cat lovers panic after bird flu death

France's pet owners reacted with panic yesterday to the confirmation that a cat found dead in Germany was killed by bird flu.

Its animal protection society, the SPA, was bombarded with calls from people worried at their pet catching the disease's lethal H5N1 strain. Some abandoned their cats.

"We are getting calls from cat owners wanting to know if there are risks," said Serge Belais, the society's president. "People are panicking."

He had no numbers of abandoned cats but said: "The risk is that we'll see the deluge in the days or weeks to come."

The German cat was found at the weekend on the island of Ruegen, where more than 100 wild birds have tested positive for H5N1. The cat had probably eaten part of an infected bird.

The French government has already asked the food safety authority to study the level of risk to cats and the prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, appealed to cat owners yesterday to stop pets straying into any area where bird flu is suspected or confirmed.

Mr Belais said the SPA was urging the government to stop French mayors over-reacting with "disproportionate and useless" operations to round up and destroy stray cats. The risk of infection was minimal but he advised owners to keep cats indoors.

Understanding Avian Influenza