The New York City Health Department has issued an advisory about the recent detection of avian influenza A H7N2 in cats being housed at a shelter in Manhattan. This is the first documented case of this strain of avian flu in cats, and the first time that this strain of virus has been identified since 2006.
Most of the approximately 45 cats infected by the virus experienced relatively minor clinical signs including lethargy, anorexia, ocular/nasal discharge, sneezing, and coughing, and are expected to recover. One cat with multiple health issues developed pneumonia and was euthanized. The virus has not been detected in any other animals or humans associated with the shelter, Animal Care Centers of New York City (ACC).
While this virus appears to be fairly contagious from cat to cat via respiratory secretions that can be passed by either direct contact or on surfaces such as water and food bowls, toys, and litter boxes, there is no evidence of cat-to-human transmission at this time. Out of an abundance of caution, health officials suggest that owners refrain from allowing sick cats to lick their faces or cuddling with cats demonstrating flu-like symptoms. This is particularly important in individuals with compromised immune systems.
Cats adopted from ACC since November 12, 2016 that demonstrate flu-like symptoms should be isolated from other cats and brought to a veterinarian promptly. The veterinarian should be informed of the potential for H7N2 infection to prevent transmission to other cats at the veterinarian’s office. There is currently no vaccine available for this strain of flu virus and no specific treatments. Some affected cats may benefit from supportive therapy, including antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial respiratory infections and intravenous fluid therapy to restore or maintain normal hydration. Testing for H7N2 may be recommended for cats that have been demonstrating clinical signs for four days or less.
At this point in time, this appears to be an isolated outbreak of H7N2 in cats housed at ACC only. Given the possibility of spread to other cats, however, the veterinary community and the health department remain vigilant and are expected to provide updates as more information becomes available.
Although the risk of cat-to-human infection is believed to be low, any person who has adopted a cat from ACC since November 12 and that develops flu-like symptoms should contact the New York City Health Department (866-692-3641) for advice regarding testing and management.