In a discovery that has put bird flu experts in a state of deep concern, an Indonesian scientist has identified an outbreak of bird flu in cats.
The scientist Chairul Anwar Nidom from Airlangga University in Surabaya discovered H5N1 virus antibodies in 20 percent of 500 stray cats sourced from areas near poultry farms.
These were in regions of Jakarta and Sumatra.
The infection may have occurred due to the cats eating infected chickens, but scientists are duly worried about the spread of the virus from fowl to mammals.
Warns Lo Winglok, an infectious disease expert in Hong Kong "With more species of mammals infected, that could be a sign that the virus is mutating to adapt to mammalian hosts. If they are adapting to mammals, they could be on the way to adapting to humans, to become a human virus."
In another case, Gusti Ngurah Mahardika, a virologist at Udayana University, surveyed pigs and domestic animals in Bali between September and December last year and found the virus in two dogs and a cat.
Musni Suatmodjo, Indonesia's animal health director, says there has been reports about the virus in cats and pigs in Indonesia, but has no details.
"Informally, there's information that bird flu infection in cats was found in Bandung and Bali. We also found another case in pigs in Yogyakarta", he states.
Experts fear the H5N1 virus, which still remains mainly a virus of birds, could change into a form easily transmitted from person to person and sweep the world, killing millions within weeks or months.
The Indonesian surveys have added worry lines to scientists documenting the spread of bird flu, which has killed 164 people since late 2003 and has flared again with a string of human H5N1 cases.