SEOUL – The bird flu virus has been detected in two cats that died in the South Korean city of Pocheon, around 46 kilometers (28.5 miles) north of Seoul, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs reported on Friday.
The ministry detected the H5 strain of bird flu in the remains of the cats found dead at the beginning of the week and is conducting tests to verify whether it is the same highly contagious H5N6 strain that has led to the culling of more than 25 million birds in the country so far this winter.
It is the first time that Seoul has detected bird flu in mammals since February 2015 when the virus was found in a dog.
Authorities said people suspected of having been in contact with the cats have not shown any signs of infection; however, because the incubation period of the virus in humans is 10 days, the situation is still being monitored, according to news agency Yonhap.
The H5N6 strain was detected for the first time on Nov. 16 in the feces of migratory birds in Haenam.
The incident marks the first outbreak of bird flu in South Korea since April when 12,000 poultry were put down.
The largest bird flu outbreak in recent years in the country occurred in 2014 and led to the culling of 14 million birds, resulting in significant losses for the sector.
Towards the end of 2015, South Korea had 155 million chickens and 8.7 million ducks.
Transmission of H5N6 to humans is very rare, with only a few cases detected in China.