In a follow-up to a report last week of dozens of cats in a Manhattan shelter infected with H7N2 avian influenza, New York City health officials report a confirmed human infection with H7N2 in a veterinarian involved in obtaining respiratory specimens from scores of cats at the New York City Animal Care Center (ACC) in the absence of respiratory personal protective equipment. The course of illness was brief, mild and has resolved completely. The individual did not require hospitalization.

Photo/Robert Herriman
Photo/Robert Herriman

According to Avian Flu Diary, 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.

The New York City Health Department reports  over 100 cats from the Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island ACC shelters were found to be infected with H7N2 virus. To control the outbreak and prevent further spread, cat adoptions were discontinued by ACC and no cats have been released since December 14, 2016 from the Manhattan shelter and since December 15, 2016 from the Brooklyn and Staten Island shelters. The cats will be moved to another facility where they will be cared for until the outbreak is over allowing ACC to sanitize their facilities and resume normal operations.

ACC staff and volunteers in contact with shelter cats and persons who adopted cats from the Manhattan ACC were screened for illness. ACC workers, regardless of symptoms, were tested for H7N2 virus and offered seasonal influenza vaccination if previously unvaccinated. Individuals with influenza-like symptoms were offered oseltamivir treatment, especially those at higher risk for more severe illness

In neighboring Pennsylvania, veterinarians at the Department of Agriculture have confirmed that almost a dozen cats that may have been exposed to an avian-type influenza virus in New York City shelters have been placed in special quarantine in one of three animal shelters in Chester County.

“The cats we’re testing and monitoring were transferred last month from an animal shelter in New York before some of the cats developed symptoms similar to a head cold or mild case of the flu. The cats have a low-pathogenic variety of the avian influenza virus,” explained State Veterinarian Dr. David Wolfgang. “Fortunately, we have no indication that any poultry flocks have been exposed to an infected cat.”

The sick cats are being treated and are expected to recover fully.