Seoul/Vienna, 26 July 2023 – A bird flu outbreak at a shelter in Seoul killed nearly forty cats, with the government now calling for nationwide inspections at animal protection centres.
South Korea's Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (MAFRA) confirmed earlier today the outbreak in a shelter, with two cats testing positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), commonly known as bird flu. Health officials have quarantined the shelter and have increased surveillance in the area. This is the first detection of avian influenza in cats in the region since 2016.
The incident follows a series of bird flu infections in mammals across the world with the World Health Organisation saying the mutation is “rapidly evolving” and poses a risk to humans.
Only last month, bird flu was detected in 29 domesticated cats in three regions of Poland, with the European Food Safety Authority urging people to keep their pets indoors to help stop the spread of the disease. The WHO stated on the outbreak in Poland, “This is the first report of high numbers of cats infected with avian influenza spread over a wide geographical area within any country.”
Last week five fur farms in southern Finland suffered an outbreak, and now the Finnish Food Authority has expanded the avian influenza infection zone to 12 fur farms, while the investigation is ongoing.
This coincided with five dogs and a cat in Italy being diagnosed, while at the same, just off the coast in the United Kingdom, 330 seagulls' carcasses were found on the local beaches after bird flu was officially detected at a nearby farm. Earlier this week, Brazil’s Official Veterinary Service confirmed two new outbreaks, in Rio de Janeiro and in the state of Paraná which account for 35% of Brazil’s poultry production.
FOUR PAWS, the global animal welfare organisation, has called the news “heartbreaking” and has highlighted that bird flu is a “looming pandemic”.
"What we are seeing in Seoul is heartbreaking, and unfortunately such outbreaks are becoming more common. The avian influenza epidemic has reached unprecedented magnitude, killing millions of birds, threatening to wipe out endangered species, and now house cats are dying from the virus across different continents."
Wendla Beyer, FOUR PAWS Policy Coordinator
“It's unknown whether the cats in the Seoul shelter have contracted the virus from infected birds or meat or if this was a case of cat-to-cat transmission, which could be extremely worrisome.”
Beyer added, “The emergence of highly pathogenic avian influenza is linked to the intensification of the poultry sector. Intensive farming has accelerated the circulation and mutation of the virus and continues to do so. We need policies to reduce the number of animals farmed and reorganise food systems away from the highly intensive, highly centralised production models that we currently have.
“Failure to act or implement such policies increases the risks of further, more dangerous viral mutations. We must see a globally aligned response to this serious matter.”
According to the World Organisation for Animal Health, by the end of 2022, sixty-seven countries across five continents had reported highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreaks. This tallied up to 131 million domestic poultry lost due to infection or culling. To date, a further fourteen countries have reported outbreaks as the disease continues to spread.
"The shelter has been quarantined (…) Health officials have also expanded surveillance of animal breeding facilities within 10 kilometers of the shelter, with inspections planned for animal protection centers nationwide."
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FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.four-paws.org