A veterinarian might have been infected with H7N2 a strain of avian flu. The bird flu spread among more than 100 cats from a shelter located in East Harlem, New York, where the vet worked. The case hasn’t been confirmed yet, but it could become the first case of H7N2 contagion from cat to human.

New York City officials said that the vet was the only person infected with the bird flu strain in the place. The rest of the employees were not infected. The risk to human health that poses this type of bird flu are pretty low, but still they are alerting New Yorkers to refrain from adopting cats by the moment or to have contact with cats who were at New York shelters in the last weeks.

H7N2 avian influenza has been found at in cats in a new York shelter. Image Credit: Maggie Fox/ NBC News

“But while the risk of transmission of this virus from cats to humans is believed to be low, this local case demonstrates that it is possible,” stated Corinne Schiff, acting deputy commissioner of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, through a letter.

The first cat-to-human bird flu contagion ever registered

This H7N2 is a subtype of influenza A virus, better known as avian flu. This recent H7N2 outbreak has affected more than 100 cats who lived at this Animal Care Center in NYC. It was announced that one of the cats died due to the flu. There were about 160 employees and volunteers working there.

All of them were tested and all the screening tests were negative, meaning none of them were infected except for the veterinarian. The reason behind this is that the vet was the one working with sick cats. He maintained a continued contact with these animals. The identity of the veterinarian was not revealed by the authorities.

In the United States there have been a few cases of H7N2 outbreaks – for example in 2002 in Virginia, 2003 in New York and in 2004 in Delaware – however, there has just been two previous cases in which H7N2 infected humans in the country. None of them were related to cats or any other feline. As well, all the patients successfully recovered. If the case of the vet is confirmed, it would become the first transmission of H7N2 from a cat to a human ever recorded.  The veterinarian is perfectly recovered by now.

“This person is a veterinarian” at the animal care center, said Dr. Demetre Daskalakis. “We’re talking about someone who had multiple exposures to many sick cats in a very invasive way, without respiratory protection. So if anybody in the world is going to get avian flu from a cat, it’s going to be someone who has such close contact with those secretions” Added Dr. Daskalakis.

Authorities have raised alerts among New Yorkers. They said that it is difficult to know and differentiate avian flu from common flu since the symptoms are quite alike. However, if anyone develops symptoms such as pink eyes, fever cough, sore throat or muscle ache after having contact with a shelter cat, they should be tested. In these cases, they should also call the Health Department. According to the authorities, the treatment used for common seasonal flu works in the treatment of H7N2.

People in New York should be alerted

The city’s top health official, Dr. Mary Bassett, is calling for caution for both pet owners and those who don’t have pets. She said during a health department news release that though the flu does not represent a great risk to human health, they are urging New Yorkers, who might have adopted cats from NY shelters or who have rescued cats within the last three weeks, to be alert of any kind of symptom in the animals.

The employees of the animal centers are now safe. As well, they have already sent a letter to more than 80 percent of the people who adopted cats in the last weeks at that animal shelter. None of these persons seem to be infected by their new pets.

The animal center where the 100 cats were affected by the H7N2 is located in East Harlem. The authorities didn’t specify in the letters to the people adopting cats the specific Animal Care centers. There has not been registered cases of H7N2 in another animal shelter. One of these infected cats died while the other sick cats are being put to quarantine.

At the moment, the health department recommends cat owners not to have facial contact nor nuzzling with ill cats or shelter cats, if they have had they should be aware of any flu symptom. As well, they are urging New Yorkers not to drop off cats at the Animal Care Centers of NYC shelter if possible. Given the health emergency, the city has halted the adoption of cats in all animal care centers at by the moment.

Source: US News Health