First case of bird flu spread from Cat to Human

One person, a veterinarian, has been reported to be infected with a rare form of bird flu after catching the virus from a shelter cat in New York City.

This is the first reported case of a human contracting H7N2 – a strain of influenza A virus – due to exposure from an infected cat, according to NYC Department of Health, which has gotten cat owners worried.

According to Dr. Jay Varma, deputy commissioner for disease control at the NYC Department of Health, “every time a virus adapts in a new animal, like a bird to a cat, we get concerned about the health of the cats and the humans who care for those cats.”

From Bird flu to Kitty flu

The said virus has infected at least 45 cats in a Manhattan animal shelter, and this increased exposure is how one of the shelter’s veterinarians caught the disease.

According to Varma, they have suspicion of the initial cat that likely introduced this – the bird flu turned kitty flu first infected an older and already frail cat, about 12 in human years. However, it is unclear how it contracted the virus. One possibility considered is that it swallowed an infected bird, or it could’ve gotten it from another stray cat.

Varma adds, “unfortunately, it initially developed mild illness and progressed to pneumonia and eventually was euthanized because the illness was so severe. It was the humane thing to do.”

It should be noted that the other infected cats were not as badly affected.

No real cause for fear

This influenza A subtype is not a particularly virulent strain as the vet only experienced mild symptoms over a short period of time, and has since fully recovered.However, though the risk to humans is extremely low and that officials said there is no real cause for fear, they advise that local cat owners be on the look-out for symptoms.

According to health commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett, “Our investigation confirms that the risk to human health from H7N2 is low, but we are urging New Yorkers who have adopted cats from a shelter or rescue group within the past three weeks to be alert for symptoms in their pets.”

The signs to watch out for in cats include sneezing, coughing, fever, loss of appetite, and discharge from the nose or eyes.“We are contacting people who may have been exposed and offering testing as appropriate,” she adds.

Furthermore, to keep oneself extra safe from infection, the NYC Health Department advises:

“Do 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. These precautions are even more important for persons with compromised immune systems, such as those who are being treated for cancer, or who have other chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, or kidney disease.”



Liane Clores, RN MAN

Currently an Intensive Care Unit nurse, pursuing a degree in Master of Arts in Nursing Major in Nursing Service Administration. Has been a contributor of Student Nurses Quarterly, Vox Populi, The Hillside Echo and the Voice of Nightingale publications. Other experience include: Medical-Surgical, Pediatric, Obstetric, Emergency and Recovery Room Nursing.

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