French authorities are warning of a rabies threat after a cat died of the disease, previously thought to have been eliminated from the country.
The two-month-old black and tan kitten was found last Friday in Argenteuil, near Paris. It died three days later.
France’s Ministry of Agriculture has begun an investigation and vaccinated five people as a precaution.
France was declared free of rabies in 2001 but a dog imported from Morocco infected other dogs in 2008.
“It is extremely important to find all the people, particularly the owner, or any animals that have been in contact with the kitten, its mother and other kittens of the litter,” the ministry said in a statement.
It has set up a helpline for anyone concerned about the disease.
France was first declared a rabies-free zone for non-flying terrestrial mammals 12 years ago following the elimination of fox rabies. The 2008 canine rabies outbreak led to that status being suspended for two years.
The BBC’s Christian Fraser in Paris said that the urgent appeal seeking anyone who came into contact with the infected animal is likely to be fuelled by fears of a repeat of the 2008 outbreak.
The rabies virus is present in the saliva of an infected animal and is usually transmitted to humans by a bite. The symptoms can take two to three weeks to appear.
It can be fatal if not treated, but there has been no case of rabies being contracted by humans in mainland France since 1923.
The last case of rabies in the UK not involving a quarantined animal was reported in May 2012. A woman died in hospital in London after apparently being bitten by an infected dog in South Asia.