Three days ago, NPR reported that 45 cats were confirmed sick with H7N2, a rare form of avian flu making the leap from birds to felines. Poor kitties. But Thursday morning, the NYC Department of Health confirmed H7N2 has spread from cats to humans, infecting a veterinarian caring for the cats who had tested positive for bird flu.
The department explained in a press release:
One person, of more than 350 people screened, has been found with H7N2; this person is a veterinarian who had prolonged close exposure to respiratory secretions of sick cats at Animal Care Centers of NYC’s (ACC) Manhattan shelter and has recovered from mild illness.
This isn’t the first time cats have gotten sick from avian flu, but NPR reports this is the first time this particular strain has jumped from cats to humans. The cat suspected to be Patient Zero for this particular transmission was 12 years old, already frail, and may have eaten a sick pigeon or came in contact with another cat who did.
“Unfortunately, it initially developed mild illness and progressed to pneumonia and eventually was euthanized because the illness was so severe,” Dr. Jay Varma, NYC’s deputy commissioner for disease control said. “It was the humane thing to do.”
The majority of the cats testing positive have only mild symptoms and are expected to recover, and the Department of Health stresses that the chance of transmission is still very low:
The risk of transmission of H7N2 from cats to humans is low. People who have flu-like symptoms are likely to have seasonal influenza or other respiratory viruses commonly seen in the winter. The symptoms of seasonal influenza viruses and H7N2 are similar, and medications that treat seasonal influenza also treat infections due to the H7N2 virus. People with existing health conditions or weakened immune systems, and women who are pregnant are at a higher risk of complications from seasonal influenza, and this may also be true of H7N2.
In the meantime, the Health Department says pet owners should “not allow your sick animal to kiss or lick your face, and it is advisable not to cuddle with your cat if it has a flu-like illness.” If your pets seem not to recover, bring them to a vet.
Because apparently, 2016 just won’t quit.