Declan Butler, reporter This is the personal blog of Declan Butler, a senior reporter at Nature. All views expressed here are mine, and not those of Nature. Contact me at

July 25, 2006

More ‘Aaargh plop;’ cat flu in Iraq

Filed under: avian influenza — admin @ 10:02 pm

Back in March I reported on what we know, and don’t know, about the avian flu virus H5N1 in cats. The issue has new resurfaced with a paper in Emerging Infectious Diseases reporting avian flu in cats in northern Iraq — see my story today; “More cats found with bird flu“.

The earlier post commented on the fact that cat infections were more common than recognized:

“But scientists may just be learning what is already common knowledge among Indonesian villagers. Peter Roeder, a consultant for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, says locals have an onomatopoeic name for bird flu “that sounds like ‘plop’, the sound of a chicken hitting the ground when it falls out of a tree. They also have a name for the cat form of avian flu — ‘aaargh plop’ — because cats make a screaming noise before they fall out of the tree.””

Today’s story looks at the significance of the new cases in Iraq, and in particular that they provide further field support for earlier lab findings that cats likely spread virus in the environment through contaminated faeces.

The researchers at the US Naval Medical Research Unit in Cairo, Egypt (NAMRU-3), who uncovered the cases, also suggest that cats could serve as sentinels:

“The findings also suggest that cats might help provide an early-warning system for avian flu by acting as ‘sentinels’, say the scientists, who work at a US Naval Medical Research Unit in Cairo, Egypt. Many remote areas lack the veterinary infrastructure to test quickly for H5N1. So as a proxy, they argue, H5N1 should be immediately suspected and guarded against whenever unusual bird and cat die-offs happen together.”

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