Over 40 cats from the Animal Care Centers of New York City (ACC) facility in Manhattan have tested positive for low pathogenic avian influenza A, H7N2 (LPAI). Testing was done by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine and confirmed by USDA’s National Veterinary Diagnostic Services Laboratory. This virus is different from the seasonal influenza viruses that circulate among people and is normally found in birds. Feline infections with any type of avian influenza have been documented, but this is the first report of H7N2 being identified in cats.
It is not known how these cats became infected with the virus. Testing among the dogs in the shelter has been negative, suggesting they are not susceptible. Because this virus is being recognized in cats for the first time, there is no information about the clinical course of this virus, duration of shedding, and transmission in felines. All of the cats have been symptomatic with a respiratory illness consisting of any of the following signs: lethargy, anorexia, nasal discharge, ocular discharge, and sneezing. Most cats had mild illness though some had moderate illness and one cat with severe pneumonia was humanely euthanized. At this time, there is no evidence that H7N2 is circulating in pets outside of the shelter. If H7N2 is identified outside of the shelter, additional notification will be made to inform the veterinary community.
Veterinarians are encouraged to identify in advance anyone who are making an appointment for any cat recently adopted from an ACC facility that has respiratory illness. Testing for H7N2 is only recommended in situations in which a cat that was recently adopted from the Manhattan ACC shelter developed a respiratory illness within 10 days of exiting the shelter. Specimens should be collected within 2 to 4 days from the onset of clinical signs for best results.
No human infections with these LPAI H7N2 viruses have been detected in association with these infections in cats at this time. However, two human infections associated with H7N2 have been reported in the United States in the past, one in 2002 in Virginia and another in 2003 in New York. In research settings, ferrets were found to be susceptible to infection, but with limited secondary transmission. While there is no evidence of cat to human transmission, the Health Department is currently evaluating ACC staff, ACC volunteers, and persons who recently acquired cats from the Manhattan shelter to assess this potential risk.
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