U.S. warns citizens in Indonesia on threat from cats

Wednesday, February 7, 2007; 2:09 AM

JAKARTA (Reuters) - The U.S. embassy warned its citizens in Indonesia on Wednesday that the country's wild and stray cats may carry the deadly bird flu virus and should be avoided and that care needed to be taken with pet cats.

Most known cases of humans getting the H5N1 virus have involved contact with chickens or other infected birds. But last month experts called for closer monitoring of other animals after Indonesian scientists found it in cats near poultry markets.

"There have been confirmed reports that wild and stray cats have been shown to carry H5N1," the embassy said in a notice sent to Americans in Indonesia via e-mail.

"While there have been no documented cases of feline-to-human transmission of H5N1, it is important to avoid contact with wild and stray cats, and to ensure that domesticated cats do not eat or interact with sick or dying poultry," the embassy said.

Wild and stray cats are ubiquitous in Indonesia's capital Jakarta, a sprawling city with 12 million people in the metropolitan area.

Indonesia has had the highest number of fatalities of any country in the world from the bird flu virus, accounting for 63 deaths out of the global total of 166 over the past four years.

Experts fear the virus could mutate into a strain easily transmitted from human to human, which could cause a pandemic killing millions.

However, the embassy said: "There is no evidence of any widespread, efficient, or sustained human-to-human transmission of H5N1 virus in Indonesia or globally."

Indonesia, a vast country of 17,000 islands and 220 million people, faces unique challenges in controlling the virus.

Many residents throughout the archipelago, including in urban areas, have traditionally kept some chickens, ducks or geese in their yards, while communication, transportation and health infrastructures are often inefficient.

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