Six days ago, in NYC Health Dept. Statement On Avian H7N2 In Cats, we learned that 45 cats at an animal shelter in New York City had tested positive for a rarely seen avian H7N2 virus.
Human infection with this virus has only rarely been reported, with only a couple of instances of H7N2 infection in humans on record in the United States in 2002 and 2003, and 4 people who were presumed to have been infected in the UK in 2007 following local outbreaks in poultry.
In all cases, illness was described as mild and self limiting.
Tonight the New York City Health Department has announced that one close contact of the cats at one of the shelters - a veterinarian - tested positive for the H7N2 virus and has already recovered from a mild illness.
Additionally, more than 100 cats have now tested positive, across multiple New York Shelters. While seasonal influenza is rare in cats, we've seen a number of instances where avian influenza viruses have infected felines (see Catch As Cats Can).
Although the risk to human health is currently believed low, the Health Department is offering guidance to those who have had contact with cats in these shelters, and is urging people to avoid `nuzzling and close facial contact' with sick cats.
One person, of more than 350 people screened, has been found with H7N2; this person is a veterinarian who had prolonged close exposure to respiratory secretions of sick cats at Animal Care Centers of NYC’s (ACC) Manhattan shelter and has recovered from mild illness
Precautionary guidance issued for people who recently adopted a cat from any NYC shelter or rescue group
December 22, 2016 – The Health Department today announced that its ongoing investigation of an outbreak of low pathogenic avian influenza H7N2, a strain of influenza A virus, among cats housed at Animal Care Centers of NYC’s (ACC) shelters confirms that the risk to humans is low. One person has been found with a presumptive diagnosis of this virus, which was identified by Health Department lab testing and preliminarily confirmed by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lab testing yesterday. Further testing will be forthcoming in coming days.
The infected person is a veterinarian who was involved in obtaining respiratory specimens from sick cats at the Manhattan shelter. The illness was mild, short-lived, and has resolved. More than 160 ACC employees and volunteers, including several people who had similar exposure to sick cats, were screened by the Health Department and not found to have infection with the H7N2 virus. Additionally, the Health Department contacted more than 80% of the people who adopted cats from the Manhattan shelter, and none is suspected of having H7N2.
There have been two previous documented human cases of H7N2 infection in the United States – one in a person managing an outbreak of the virus in turkeys and chickens in 2002 and the other with an unknown source in 2003. Both of these patients also had mild illness and recovered. This is the first reported case due to exposure to an infected cat. There has been no documented human-to-human transmission.
“Our investigation confirms that the risk to human health from H7N2 is low, but we are urging New Yorkers who have adopted cats from a shelter or rescue group within the past three weeks to be alert for symptoms in their pets,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “We are contacting people who may have been exposed and offering testing as appropriate.”
As a precaution, the Health Department is issuing guidance to health care providers and veterinarians today to provide information on how to manage suspected cases.
Seasonal flu is on the rise in New York City and as always, the Health Department recommends that anyone with flu symptoms should promptly seek medical care, especially if you are pregnant or have an underlying illness or immunocompromising condition which could make seasonal flu more severe. Speak with your provider to see if you should be started on antivirals.
Although the flu vaccine does not protect against H7N2 virus, the Health Department continues to recommend New Yorkers get vaccinated to prevent seasonal flu. Find a place to get vaccinated
New Yorkers should avoid nuzzling and close facial contact with sick cats, especially if they are pregnant or have an underlying disease that affects the immune system, such as cancer, diabetes, or chronic lung disease.
The Health Department will contact all employees and volunteers at ACC’s three shelters to offer specific guidance to them.
The Health of Infected Cats
Since last week, more than 100 cats have tested positive for H7N2 across all NYC shelters. This was expected because the virus is highly contagious among cats and cats are sometimes moved between shelters. All of the newly infected cats are experiencing mild illness and have been separated from other animals in the shelters.
They are expected to recover. One cat admitted to the shelter with H7N2 infection died. ACC suspended adoptions of cats once the virus was discovered. The Health Department, working with ACC, the ASPCA and New York City Emergency Management, has identified a location where the cats will be quarantined soon, which will allow ACC to resume full intake and adoption of cats. The ASPCA will assume operational costs and manage the care of the cats.
All other ACC operations have continued. Cats are the only animal species that has tested positive for H7N2. Testing has been conducted by ACC on various other animal species, including dogs and rabbits, and all have tested negative. Until cats are removed to the new location and ACC’s cat facilities are disinfected, New Yorkers are urged not to drop off cats at any ACC shelter. ACC will continue to distribute instructions to all new and recent cat adopters to monitor their cats, which includes guidance on checking animals for upper respiratory illness.
MEDIA CONTACT: Maibe Ponet/Julien Martinez, (347) 396-4177
While the human health risks from H7N2 appear to be very low at this time, anytime we see an avian virus jump species and spread in a new host as well as this virus has, we tend to take notice.
Where this goes from here will depend to a large degree on whether this outbreak can be successfully contained, or if the virus manages to get out and spreads among the general cat population.There is, unfortunately, some precedent.
- In 2004, the introduction of equine H3N8 to greyhounds at a Florida Dog track launched what has been an ongoing international epidemic of canine influenza (see EID Journal article Influenza A Virus (H3N8) in Dogs with Respiratory Disease, Florida).
- In April of 2015, the Asian canine H3N2 virus turned up in Chicago (see CDC Statement On H3N2 Canine Influenza In Chicago Region), and since then has reportedly spread across much of the United States in a remarkably short period of time.
Hopefully history won't repeat itself. But regardless, this is an event that will likely warrant a good deal of investigation and research in the coming weeks and months.