One Person Sickened From Bird Flu in Cats


Maybe it can only happen in New York City. It seems there’s a great deal that can only happen in the Big Apple. Experts are still mystified as to how so many cats could have come down with the bird flu. You read that right.

And now, according to the New York Department of Public Heath, one person, of more than 350 people screened, has been found with H7N2 (bird flu virus); a veterinarian who had prolonged close exposure to respiratory secretions of sick cats at Animal Care Centers of NYC’s (ACC) Manhattan shelter, His illness was described as “mild” and he has recovered.

At first, it was assumed that the sick cats with respiratory symptoms at the New York City shelter might be getting the dog flu. But that was proven NOT to be the case. Though cats can get the dog flu, it’s a very rare event. But then it’s even more rare for cats to get the flu, but turns out they did come down with, a bird flu. A virus, known as low pathogenic avian influenza H7N2, was identified in the 45 sick cats housed at the Manhattan shelter.

How the heck did the cats or at least one cat come down with this virus? No one has a clue. Maybe it’s because anything can happen in New York City.

One of the cats – which was previously ill – did succumb. All others recovered. So far, aside from the isolated 45 – flu has not been discovered in any other shelter cats or in the general population, and is unlikely to occur – though officials are watchful. Previously, there were only two documented cases of bird flu causing flu-like illness in cats ever. Note, one report indicates more like 100 cats were tested positive for bird flu at the shelter. 

Based on recent testing data by the University of Wisconsin, November 12, 2016 is the earliest date when this virus was likely introduced into the shelter. The Health Department contacted all persons who have adopted cats from ACC’s Manhattan care center since November 12th, and no flu symptoms identified as bird flu were reported.  

Still, the local Health Department is advising persons who adopted Manhattan shelter cats during this period to call the Department at 866-692-3641 for care instructions, including keeping their cat separated from other cats or animals, if their cat is showing signs of persistent cough, lip smacking, runny nose, and fever. The Health Department is also advising these pet owners to call 866-692-3641 if they develop fever with a sore throat, fever with a cough, or red, inflamed eyes. 

This is a reminder of what the flu virus can do (in any species). And a reminder what we can do – for people or dogs: Vaccinate (as a physician or veterinarian) suggests. One difference is dogs can’t talk to one another about the flu. Where dog flu exists at all or has existed, dogs being boarded, kenneled, in daycare or at all social should be considered candidates for the vaccine. A new vaccine includes both strains of canine influenza virus in one shot (and booster), H3N2 and H3N8, (To be clear you don’t vaccinate cats with a dog flu vaccine).

The Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory made the initial identification of the strain and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory confirmed the test results.