Hundreds of cats quarantined in New York City bird flu outbreak

By Gina Cherelus

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Hundreds of domestic cats have been quarantined in New York City after contracting a strain of highly contagious avian flu at shelters operated by a major animal rescue organization, and the virus also infected at least one veterinarian, officials said.

It is the first time the H7N2 strain of the virus, commonly found in birds, has infected domestic cats, according to the New York City Health Department.

Symptoms are generally mild, and include sneezing, coughing and runny eyes and noses.

The virus was first detected last month in 45 cats housed at a Manhattan shelter run by Animal Care Center of NYC, and later turned up in cats at shelters in the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn. It was not immediately clear how the cats contracted the virus or how it spread so quickly, the city’s health department said in a statement on Thursday.

“We continue to urge New Yorkers who have adopted cats from ACC shelters to be on alert for symptoms in their pets and take proper precautions,” Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said in a statement.

She said the risk to human health from H7N2 is low.

H7N2 is a type of avian influenza virus, also known as the bird flu, that can mutate and transfer onto mammals such as cats. It could infect other mammals as well, including humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website. The CDC provides guidance on bird flu in cats on its website. (

More than 450 cats will remain at a temporary shelter for up to 90 days until a University of Wisconsin lab confirms they are no longer contagious, the city’s health department said. ACC, the New York Health Department and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are monitoring the animals together.

In December, the city’s health department and the CDC confirmed that a veterinarian had been infected at the ACC’s Manhattan shelter. It was the first case of cat-to-human-transmission of the flu, the city’s health department said. The illness was mild and short-lived.

The health department screened more than 160 ACC employees for the virus and contacted more than 80 percent of pet adopters from the Manhattan shelter, but no other cases have been found.

Residents who adopted a cat from an ACC shelter between Nov. 12 and Dec. 15 should monitor their pets for signs of sickness, officials said.

(Editing by Frank McGurty and Matthew Lewis)

Expect more bird flu cases in Europe and in the U.S

A car drives past the town sign in the northern German village of Grumby, Germany, with the "Bird Flu - off limits area" warning notice

By Sybille de La Hamaide

PARIS (Reuters) – More outbreaks of a severe strain of bird flu in Europe are likely to occur in the next few weeks as wild birds believed to transmit the virus migrate southward, the deputy head of the world animal health body said on Tuesday.

North America, especially the United States where bird flu last year led to the death of about 50 million poultry, should also prepare for new cases, said Matthew Stone, Deputy Director General of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

Eight European countries and Israel have found cases of the highly contagious H5N8 strain of bird flu in the past few weeks and some ordered that poultry flocks be kept indoors to avoid the disease spreading.

Most outbreaks involved wild birds but Germany, Hungary and Austria also reported cases in domestic duck and turkey farms where all poultry had to be culled.

“From the level of exposure that we have seen to date I would expected more detections, hopefully only in wild birds but it is certainly possible that the presence of this virus in wild birds will create an opportunity for exposure in domestic poultry,” Stone told Reuters in an interview.

“The OIE is very concerned for the impact on our member countries and particularly those where there has been exposure of domestic poultry and where significant control operations are underway,” he added.

Wild birds can carry the virus without showing symptoms of it and transmit it to poultry through their feathers or feces.

The H5N8 virus has never been detected in humans but led to the culling of millions of farm birds in Asia and Europe in 2014.


In the United States the bird flu crisis last year sent egg prices to all-time highs because of the losses and dozens of countries imposed total or partial bans on U.S. poultry and egg imports.

It would be “no surprise at all” to see new detections in wild birds in North America, Stone said, adding that he hoped the biosecurity framework set up by the U.S. industry and the government would reduce the risk of large-scale outbreaks.

“At this stage we have to take history as our best indicator of what may well play out over the next few months,” Stone said.

Bird flu cannot be transmitted through food. The main risk is of a virus mutating into a form that is transmitted to and between humans, potentially creating a pandemic.

As well as Germany, Hungary, Austria and Israel, Switzerland, Poland, the Netherlands, Denmark and Croatia have also reported outbreaks of the highly pathogenic H5N8 avian influenza, more commonly called bird flu, in recent weeks.

Denmark and the Netherlands have ordered farmers to keep poultry indoors and Germany is considering to do so to protect them from wild birds.

Switzerland said it plans to extend to the entire country precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

France, which saw its foie gras industry devastated by other strains of the virus earlier this year, has been spared by H5N8 so far but called poultry farmers to increase controls and biosecurity measures.

Since an outbreak of the H5N1 crisis in 2003 when the virus passed on to humans, killing hundreds of them in Asia and Egypt, the OIE’s 180 member countries are bound to report all new occurrences of the disease to the Paris-based organisation.

(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide; Editing by Gareth Jones)

French foie gras makers worry as bird flu spreads in Europe

Employee holds a duck liver in at a poultry farm in Doazit, Southwestern France,

By Sybille de La Hamaide

PARIS (Reuters) – New outbreaks in Europe of a severe strain of bird flu pose a fresh worry for French foie gras producers, already reeling from lost sales last year when the virus emerged in southwestern France.

The run-up to Christmas coincides with peak demand for the delicacy, France’s favorite festive treat, made from duck or goose liver.

Marie-Pierre Pe from foie gras makers group CIFOG, said on Monday that prices could be 10 percent higher this Christmas after the French government’s decision last year to cull all ducks and geese, and halt output for four months, in a bid to contain the virus.

Farmers hope that stricter measures in place at French farms to spare birds from contamination after last year’s crisis will better protect their industry should the current outbreak of the H5N8 strain, already seen in neighboring Germany and Switzerland and other European countries, hit France.

“When I heard about new bird flu cases in Europe, I thought: It can’t be true, the nightmare is not going to start all over again,” Pe told Reuters.

“We did all that is needed to prepare farmers since the start of the year but we are never immune from birds contaminating a farm,” she said.

Producers estimate the freezing of output had cost the industry around 500 million euros ($539 million), including a 270 million euros loss in sales and additional costs for new biosecurity material.

The 25 percent drop in output and higher costs will lead to the rise in prices of foie gras products this year, Pe said.

Sold whole or as a pate, foie gras is considered a gourmet food in Western and Asian cuisine, but the practice of force-feeding has often been criticized as cruel by animal activists.

CIFOG held regular meetings with farmers this year to explain biosecurity measures put in place after the crisis, such as better protecting food and water from wild birds, Pe said. Farmers in southwestern France, the top foie gras producing region, also face stricter rules to avoid contamination between farms, notably through equipment disinfection.

As well as Germany and Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands, Denmark and Croatia, have also reported outbreaks of the highly contagious H5N8 bird flu in recent weeks.

No case of bird flu has been found in France so far this time but the country raised surveillance measures on Thursday to keep wild migrating birds from transmitting the virus to farm poultry.

Denmark ordered farmers to keep their poultry indoors on Monday due to the bird flu threat and Germany said it was considering ordering farmers to keep their flocks inside.

(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide; Editing by Susan Fenton)

U.S. on high alert for bird flu after Indiana poultry outbreak

The Avian influenza virus is harvested from a chicken egg as part of a diagnostic process in this undated U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) handout image. REUTERS / Erica Spackman / USDA / Handout via Reuters

CHICAGO (Reuters) – In the two weeks since bird flu reappeared in Indiana, U.S. veterinarians have swabbed the mouths of chickens and turkeys across the country, racing to uncover any more infections and contain the virus before it causes mass death and damage like last year.

Biologists also are running tests on feces collected from wild birds, which are suspected of spreading the disease to farms.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed on Jan. 15 that a turkey flock in Dubois County, Indiana, was infected with the H7N8 strain of the virus. It was the first new case of bird flu in U.S. poultry flocks since June.

More poultry flocks will likely fall ill in the coming months, veterinarians said, following an unprecedented outbreak last year that caused more than 48 million chickens and turkeys to die from sickness or because they had to be culled to contain the disease.

Anxiety over that risk is fueling vigilance among U.S. poultry producers and government officials looking for signs of infections. Increased testing could help limit the spread if new cases are detected quickly.

“Everybody’s testing everything,” said John Glisson, vice-president of research for the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, an industry group.

In the days after the latest outbreak, when winter weather was hampering travel, the USDA arranged for a plane to fly poultry samples from farms near the infected site in Indiana to an Iowa lab to speed up testing, said Denise Derrer, spokeswoman for the Indiana Board of Animal Health.

Typically, the samples would be driven across Illinois.

State and federal authorities culled more than 400,000 birds near the infected farm to contain the outbreak. About 350,000 in the area were killed even though they were diagnosed with a less lethal form of bird flu or tested negative for the disease.

Officials said they wanted to be aggressive to avoid a repeat of last year’s losses. USDA believes the less lethal virus type mutated into a more deadly strain in one flock.

Indiana has required testing in flocks as far as 12.4 miles from the infected farm at least every five to seven days, exceeding the USDA’s standard requirement for testing confined to a zone half that size.

Last year showed the passage of a few weeks without a new infection did not mean the end of the virus.

Minnesota, the nation’s top turkey producing state, confirmed its first infection in poultry on March 5. Its next case was not detected until March 27, and the state subsequently lost 5 million turkeys.

“We’re constantly reminded of what happened in Minnesota last year,” Derrer said.

(Editing by Jo Winterbottom and Matthew Lewis)

CDC closely monitoring emergence of new bird flu strain

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is closely monitoring individuals who may have been exposed to the new strain of bird flu that has been found in a flock of turkeys in Indiana, a CDC health official said on Friday.

Dr. Michael Jhung, a medical officer at the CDC, said there is no evidence of human infection related to the new bird flu strain known as H7N8, but the agency and local health officials are not taking any chances.

“There’s always the possibility of implications to human health when you see a new flu virus in animals, like we’re seeing now in turkeys,” Jhung told Reuters in an interview.

Jhung said the CDC and local health departments are already implementing a program designed after last year’s large bird flu outbreak in poultry, and will monitor people in close contact with infected birds.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Chris Reese)

Chicken and Turkey Farmers Prepare for Return of Bird Flu This Fall

Another round of bird flu could be on the way due to the annual fall migration of wild birds.

The avian flu affected 48.8 million poultry in 21 states this spring. Iowa and Minnesota were hit the hardest by the outbreak. Minnesota alone saw $600 million in losses as the virus spread to over 100 farms in the state.

Many believe that migrating ducks and geese are what carried the bird flu into the United States, but thousands of droppings have been tested and so far, the results have come up negative. Others blame lapses in biosecurity and other farmers blame the wind.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stated that the situation could have been handled better.

“We understand there are issues involving biosecurity, there are issues involving depopulation, there are issues involving disposal, there are issues involving indemnification, and the time for repopulation,” Vilsack said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has since issued a 57-page plan for this fall that reportedly can handle twice as many infections. The USDA is also hoping to stockpile the vaccine that will reduce the amount of virus created from an outbreak, but it won’t fully protect the birds.

The scare of another bird flu outbreak has also started a controversy on how to dispose of birds who are infected with the virus. U.S. agriculture officials have approved a new method that would entail trapping infected poultry in a sealed atmosphere, turning up the heat, and shutting off all ventilation. Animals rights groups immediately responded, stating that this method was cruel.

“We shouldn’t compound the problems for birds by subjecting them to a particularly miserable and protracted means of euthanasia,” said Michael Blackwell, the Humane Society’s chief veterinary officer.

U.S. agriculture officials state that this method isn’t the first choice as it can take 30 to 40 minutes for the birds to die of heat stress.

Poultry Producers Attempt Genetically Modified Chickens to Fight Bird Flu

A group of poultry producers are working with scientists to create a strain of genetically modified chickens that would be immune to bird flu.

The study is also being supported by funding from the British government.  So far, the scientists have created chickens that show “early promise” for fighting off the disease.

Over 48 million chicken and turkeys have been put down in the US because of bird flu since December.

“The public is obviously aware of these outbreaks when they’re reported and wondering why there’s not more done to control it,” said Laurence Tiley, a senior lecturer in molecular virology at the University of Cambridge who is involved in the experiments, told Reuters.

The chicks in the study, who have been injected with dye to glow in the dark and stand out from non-modified chicks, are showing an initial immunity to the virus and also have been unable to spread the virus to other animals.  The genetic codes of the birds are being changed to trick the virus into reproducing a decoy virus rather than itself.

GMO animals have been a source of concern for the Food and Drug Administration, who have been examining GMO salmon for the last 20 years.  The agency deemed the animals safe for human consumption in 2010 but continue to study them.

Opponents say that like GMO crops the animals would contribute to health and environmental problems.

CDC: Bird Flu to Human Transmission a “Concern”

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is admitting they have “concern” that the bird flu which killed 48 million birds this year could jump to humans.

While the virus has not infected any humans thus far, Dr. Michael Jhung, head of the CDC’s Influenza Division, says they are watching to see if the virus begins to mutate.

“These are the first of these types of viruses that we’re seeing,” Dr. Jhung told CNBC.  “Because [the viruses are] new, we’re a little concerned because we don’t know how dangerous they could be.”

The CDC says the risk to the public is low but issued an advisory that anyone near sick or dead birds wear coveralls, face masks and eye protection.

“This bird flu outbreak in the United States is not the start of a pandemic,” Dr. Jhung said.  However, the CDC is “preparing for human cases of infection with this bird flu virus, even though there have been none.”

“We don’t want to see any, but we are getting ready in case there are cases of human infection,” he added.

Officials with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) say they believe the bird flu that struck this year has been eradicated but are preparing for another wave of the virus this fall.

The deaths of birds and their impact on domestic egg production has caused a massive spike in egg prices.  The average price for a dozen eggs has jumped 135% this year because of the shortage in eggs.  Some experts say eggs could be as much as $6 a dozen before the market begins to recover.

Texas Stores Limit Egg Sales

A chain of grocery stores in Texas is telling their customers they can only purchase a limited amount of eggs because of the bird flu impacting the nation’s egg supply.

H-E-B stores has posted signs saying that customers are limited to three cartons of eggs.  There is no limit on the size of the cartons, just the number of cartons.

The restriction is also in place at H-E-B’s affiliated Central Market stores.

“The avian flu this year has impacted a significant portion of the egg laying population in the United States (over 30 million birds),” company officials said in a statement. “This temporary constriction in the US market has caused an increase in price and shortage in availability of eggs.”

The announcement by H-E-B is on the heels of restaurant chain Whataburger announcing they were reducing their breakfast hours because of the number of egg based dishes on their menu.

Live Anthrax Found Shipped To More Labs

The Pentagon says an investigation into an accidental shipment of live anthrax to labs in nine states and South Korea was significantly larger and lasted over a decade.

The anthrax, sent from the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, has been shipped to 51 sites in the United States and overseas in the last 10 year.  The samples were all believed to have contained irradiated and inactivated virus.

The officials admitted they are testing 400 additional batches and if they are found to be live, the number of locations with live virus could significantly jump.

Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said that 31 lab workers have ben undergoing post-exposure treatment as a precaution but that the public is safe.

“We know of no risk to the general public from these samples,” Work said.

The admission of the shipments of live anthrax are part of a pattern of accidents involving viruses that have observers questioning the way the military is handling potentially deadly pathogens.  A year ago, the CDC admitted a dozen employees may have been exposed to live anthrax and that another lab contaminated a flu virus with the deadly H5N1 bird flu and then shipped it out to another laboratory.

Less than a year ago, live smallpox vials were found in a storage lab at the National Institutes of Health.