A little less than a month ago (Dec 16th), NYC Health Dept. Statement On Avian H7N2 In Cats, New York City officials announced that 45 cats at a Manhattan animal shelter had been identified as carrying A/H7N2, an avian virus that has caused major outbreaks in poultry in the past, but had never been seen in cats before.
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.
Although the risk to human health is believed low, the Health Department offered guidance to those who have had contact with cats in these shelters, and urged people to avoid `nuzzling and close facial contact' with sick cats. Additionally, the number of cats infected in this second report now exceeded 100 across `multiple shelters'.
Two days later, on Dec 24th, in Penn Ag Dept: Some Cats May Have Been Exposed To Avian H7N2, we learned that some cats had been transferred to Pennsylvania shelters, and they were quarantining cats as well.
Since then, we've heard very little, until yesterday. when the NYC Health Department posted the following update.
The number of quarantined cats is now 450 - a ten fold increase over the original number - although it isn't clear how many of these have actually tested positive for the virus (as opposed to just having been exposed).
Animal Care Centers of NYC’s Cats Quarantined for H7N2 Virus Receive Care, Monitoring at ASPCA Temporary Shelter
National, local agencies take part in massive operation to care for hundreds of cats exposed to H7N2 virus
Animal Care Centers to resume operations within two weeks
New York, N.Y.—In coordination with the New York City Health Department (DOHMH) and Animal Care Centers of NYC (ACC), the ASPCA® (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) – with funding provided by Maddie’s Fund® – has established a temporary quarantine shelter in Queens to care for hundreds of cats exposed to the avian flu virus, H7N2. Last week, more than 450 cats from ACC shelters in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island were transported to the temporary shelter by ACC and the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals. The cats will be quarantined at the facility until ongoing lab tests, conducted by the Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, show they are healthy and no longer contagious—likely 45 to 90 days.
ASPCA responders as well as volunteers from other agencies are providing ongoing daily care while veterinary experts closely monitor the cats during the quarantine period. While some of the cats are showing mild flu-like symptoms such as sneezing or runny nose, others are doing well and settling in at the temporary shelter.
“I thank our partners at the ASPCA, ACC, Mayor’s Alliance, and Maddie’s Fund for their unwavering commitment to providing the best care for these cats. This unprecedented effort was made possible by their support. We continue to urge New Yorkers who have adopted cats from ACC shelters to be on alert for symptoms in their pets and take proper precautions,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett.
H7N2 is a type of avian influenza virus (bird flu) that sometimes mutates, and transfers to mammals, such as cats. The Health Department reports that most infected cats have experienced only mild illness, and no other animal species at ACC have tested positive for H7N2.
The Health Department investigation of the H7N2 virus confirmed that the risk to humans is low. There has been only one cat-to-human transmission associated with this outbreak; there have been no cases of human-to-human transmission. Under the Health Department’s guidance, the ASPCA has implemented strict protocols to ensure the safety of the responders and cats. These include decontamination training and personal protective equipment for all individuals in direct contact with cats from this population.
“The ASPCA rapid response team has been nothing short of incredible,” said ACC President & CEO Risa Weinstock. “Within hours they were coordinating groups from across the nation to work with our staff to ensure the best care is provided to those cats in quarantine.”
“Responders from the ASPCA, ACC and other agencies are working around the clock to safely monitor and care for these cats,” added ASPCA President & CEO Matt Bershadker. “Once the cats are healthy and no longer contagious, we’ll do everything we can to help them find homes.”
ACC has hired a professional cleaning company to service all facilities and they will resume cat adoptions once the cleaning process is complete.
New Yorkers who adopted a cat from an ACC shelter between November 12 and December 15 should continue to monitor their cats for flu-like symptoms, including sneezing, coughing, runny nose and runny or red eyes. If such symptoms are present, these owners should take their cats to a veterinarian and inform them that the cat may have been exposed to H7N2. This will allow the veterinarians to make arrangements to prevent exposure to other cats in the clinic.
The sheltering and quarantine operation has been made possible by the generous funding from the ASPCA and Maddie’s Fund, a family foundation established by Dave and Cheryl Duffield to revolutionize the status and well-being of companion animals. Maddie’s Fund has also committed to providing grant support to defray veterinary costs incurred by eligible rescue groups that received cats from ACC and treated them for symptoms associated with the virus, medical care to the ACC cats that are in quarantine, testing and retesting of all affected cats, travel expenses for the shelter medicine intern teams as well as thorough cleaning of three ACC shelters.
“This has been an amazing collaboration,” said Dr. Laurie Peek from Maddie’s Fund Executive Leadership Team. “I have been impressed with the ACC’s efforts to save these cats. Multiple agencies have pulled together to respond quickly and effectively to this outbreak, setting a new precedent on dealing with outbreaks in shelters. This type of collaboration – that puts animals and community welfare first – represents the best of the animal welfare movement. We are immensely proud to work with the ASPCA, ACC, University of Wisconsin’s Shelter Medicine program and all the partners on this response.”
Agencies assisting with veterinary and daily care at the shelter include: ACC; Cat Depot (Sarasota, Fla.); Coastal Humane Society (Brunswick, Maine); Florida State Animal Response Coalition (Bushnell, Fla.); Humane SocietyforGreater Savannah (Ga.); Longmont Humane Society (Longmont, Colo.); Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals; San Diego Humane Society (Calif.); Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine (Madison, Wis.); The Animal Support Project (Cropseyville, N.Y.); Washington State Animal Response Team (Enumclaw, Wash.); and Wayside Waifs (Kansas City, Mo.).
So far, we've only heard of cats in these shelters exposed to, or carrying, this avian virus. An important question, as yet unanswered., is whether any cats outside of these shelters are spreading the virus.