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Influenza outbreak among NYC shelter cats

Posted by SusanStokes on December 18, 2016

A rare influenza subtype outbreak has been identified in cats residing in a New York City animal shelter. The low pathogenic avian influenza H7N2 was identified by the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

A recent press release indicates the Shelter Medicine Program at the UW–Madison School of Veterinary Medicine is working closely with New York City’s Manhattan Animal Care Center (ACC–Manhattan) and the New York City Health Department to manage the situation, which includes establishing a quarantine facility while the Manhattan center is disinfected.        

Although not severe, the affected cats displayed upper respiratory symptoms including runny nose, congestion, persistent cough and lip smacking. Unfortunately, one cat was euthanized after developing pneumonia. No other species of animals from the shelter, including dogs, have tested positive for the virus.

Sandra Newbury, clinical assistant professor at the veterinary school and director of the UW Shelter Medicine Program, had this to say in their recent press release:

“While we are concerned about this new infection, the cats are experiencing only mild to moderate illness, but a few have developed pneumonia. 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." 

The first cases of influenza at the shelter were reported in late November when a private company, IDEXX Reference Laboratories, tested sick cats housed at ACC–Manhattan. The shelter then approached the UW Shelter Medicine Program and WVDL for more assistance since both helped manage outbreaks of a different strain of influenza that affected dogs and cats in the Midwest earlier this year and in 2015.

Further testing at WVDL found additional positive samples and led to identification of the H7N2 strain, a finding that has been verified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories. The California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory at the University of California, Davis also confirmed the presence of H7N2 influenza virus after IDEXX provided samples to that lab for testing. Clinical professor and head of the WVDL’s virology section, Kathy Toohey-Kurth, said this is the first time H7N2 has been detected and transmitted among domestic cats.          

Please contact your family veterinarian if your cat displays any type of upper respiratory symptoms. Since the influenza infection is unlikely in cats that have not had contact with infected felines from the shelter, your veterinarian should diagnose your own cat’s particular respiratory issue.

It is advised that cats suspected to be infected with the virus should be housed separately from other animals and precautions should be taken to prevent the spread of the virus on hands and clothing. The virus is thought to pose a low risk to people. In fact, the press release reports no human infections related to this case have been identified to date. 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. There have been only two cases of H7N2 found in humans, and both cases ended with full recovery.

The UW Shelter Medicine Program reports they will continue to work with the animal shelter to help manage the case and offer testing to any cats in rescue groups that are affected. The Maddie’s Fund is paying for diagnostic testing conducted by the WVDL for animals that have come from the New York City shelter since Nov. 12, 2016. Shelters and rescue groups can email the UW Shelter Medicine Program with questions and testing inquiries at uwsheltermedicine@vetmed.wisc.edu and find updates at www.uwsheltermedicine.com - be sure to visit the diagnostic testing page.

We hope this goes some way in helping to inform and keep your felines healthy!

Susan, Taurus and Gemini