Avian flu strain spreads to 45 cats

Domestic felines are infected with H7N2 for the first time

A rare avian influenza strain, H7N2, has infected domestic cats for the first time, the University of Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory reported today.

The outbreak has stricken 45 cats at the Animal Care Center shelter in New York City. One older cat whose infection progressed to pneumonia was euthanized.

“The cats are experiencing only mild to moderate illness, but a few have developed pneumonia,” said Sandra Newbury, DVM, MS, a clinical assistant professor who directs Wisconsin’s Shelter Medicine Program. “Many of the cats who were initially ill are already recovering.

“We do want people to be aware of what is happening, but influenza infection is unlikely in cats that have not had contact with cats from New York City’s Manhattan Animal Care Center,” Dr. Newbury said.

The University of Wisconsin is working with the Animal Care Center and the New York City Health Department to control the outbreak. A quarantine area was set up while the shelter is disinfected.

Some shelter cats that were adopted after the illnesses began in late November could have been infected, authorities noted.

People are at low risk of contracting the H7N2 flu strain.

“Although this strain of the avian flu has only resulted in mild to moderate illness in some cats located in one shelter, we have begun to test staff and people in close contact with the cats out of an abundance of caution,” said New York’s first deputy health commissioner, Oxiris Barbot, M.D.

Symptoms in the infected cats included runny nose, congestion, a persistent cough and lip smacking. Dogs and other shelter animals were not affected.

Clinical Professor Kathy Toohey-Kurth, MS, Ph.D., who heads Wisconsin laboratory’s virology section, said H7N2 had never before “been detected and transmitted among domestic cats.”

“Several cases of H7N2 were found in commercial poultry in the United States between 2000 and 2006, and it may be able to spread to other animals,” the university stated. “There have been only two cases of H7N2 found in humans, and both cases ended with full recovery.”

Shelters and rescue groups needing advice about H7N2 may contact the Shelter Medicine Program at uwsheltermedicine@vetmed.wisc.edu.

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