The FAO Emergency Prevention System (EMPRES) reports in disease event ID 200313 the death of two tigers in a Guangxzi zoo (in China) after they were affected by bird flu (highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1).
The report stated eight tigers were at risk of the infection, of which two died. Virus isolation was done via reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RTPCR) to confirm the diagnosis.
While it does sound incredible that the big cats would be felled by the avian influenza virus, it is not the first time that this has been reported. According to an update on the WHO site
Several published studies have demonstrated H5N1 infection in large cats kept in captivity. In December 2003, two tigers and two leopards, fed on fresh chicken carcasses, died unexpectedly at a zoo in Thailand. Subsequent investigation identified H5N1 in tissue samples.
In February 2004, the virus was detected in a clouded leopard that died at a zoo near Bangkok. A white tiger died from infection with the virus at the same zoo in March 2004.
In October 2004, captive tigers fed on fresh chicken carcasses began dying in large numbers at a zoo in Thailand. Altogether 147 tigers out of 441 died of infection or were euthanized. Subsequent investigation determined that at least some tiger-to-tiger transmission of the virus occurred.
Published by Pranab Chatterjee
Skeptic Oslerphile. PhD Student in the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Past: 1) Public Health Scientist and Program Manager, Translational Global Health Policy Research Cell, Department of Health Research, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. 2) Scientist, Indian Council of Medical Research, National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases; 3) Senior Research Associate, Public Health Foundation of India. Interests include: Emerging Infections, Public Health, Antimicrobial Resistance, One Health and Zoonoses, Diarrheal Diseases, Medical Education, Medical History, Open Access, Healthcare Social Media and Health2.0. Opinions are my own!
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