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3 more cats die of H5N1 bird flu in the U.S.

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Three more cats have died of H5N1 bird flu in the United States, one of which was a domestic cat with no links to farms, according to state officials. At least 10 cats are now known to have died since bird flu spread to dairy cows earlier this year.

Two of the cats were found dead at a dairy farm in Curry County in New Mexico, according to the state’s veterinarian, Dr. Samantha Uhrig. Cows at the farm also tested positive after workers noticed a drop in milk production.

The third case was reported in Yellowstone County in Montana, where a domestic cat exhibited “neurologic signs” after the owner found a dead skunk on the property.

The cat was initially submitted for rabies testing but it was later discovered that the pet was infected with H5N1 bird flu. There were no links to farms or dairy cows, Tahnee Szymanski, the state’s veterinarian, told BNO News.

At least 10 cats in the United States have died of H5N1 bird flu since the virus was confirmed in dairy cows in late March. The real number of infected barn cats may be higher due to limited testing.

The global spread of H5N1 clade – and the recent spread to a growing number of mammals – has raised concern about the possibility of human-to-human transmission from a future variant. So far, only a few human cases have been found after contact with infected birds or cattle.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in late March that bird flu had been found in unpasteurized milk from sick cows in Kansas and Texas, making those the first-ever cases in cattle. The number of outbreaks at dairy farms has since risen to 42 in 9 states and a farm worker in Texas also tested positive.

On Friday, the U.S. government announced nearly $200 million in funding to fight the spread of H5N1 bird flu in dairy cows, including support for dairy farms, testing, vaccine development, surveillance and measures to ensure the safety of commercial milk.

Cats are known to be highly vulnerable to this new strain of H5N1 bird flu. The first case in a cat with this variant was reported near a duck farm in southern France in December 2022, after which the animal was euthanized.

In 2023, nearly 40 cats died at two animal shelters in South Korea after eating contaminated cat food, and in Poland, more than a dozen cats died in an outbreak presumably caused by contaminated raw meat.

In the United States, at least 23 cats have been infected with H5N1 bird flu, including the 10 cases reported in recent weeks. The other 13 happened last year in connection with infected poultry or wild birds.

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