Cat nose pawA press release by the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has provided some interesting new information about the recent H7N2 influenza outbreak in cats. This avian influenza strain is causing an ongoing outbreak in cats in shelters in New York, and human surveillance has been underway.

Three-hundred fifty (350) people have been screened for the virus and one person was positive. This person is a veterinarian who had “prolonged close exposure to respiratory secretions of section cats” at one shelter, including collection of respiratory specimens from sick cats. There’s no mention of the infection control practices that were used when samples were collected from the animals, but it’s possible they were limited, particularly if influenza had not yet been diagnosed in the shelter at that point. The individual had mild illness and has recovered.

One of 350 is obviously a low number, but it’s one nonetheless. It’s not too surprising since humans are susceptible to various flu strains, and there was close contact between people and infected cats. Disease was mild, as is common with low pathogenicity avian influenza strain infections in people. However, any time flu moves between species and new strains are encountered, there’s concern. Surveillance of cats and people in New York is ongoing.

Below is updated information on the cat situation from the press release:

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.

More information will continue to become available as this outbreak is tracked both in cats and people.