Every single shelter cat in New York City has been forced into quarantine following the biggest flu outbreak ever seen in cats.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals opened a temporary quarantine center on Dec. 29 for the 500 cats in the city’s shelter system. So far, 386 of them have tested positive for the virus, a mild form of H7N2, which is a strain of bird flu that has never before been observed in cats.
Shelter cats began falling ill in November, developing runny noses and eyes, congestion, coughing and lip smacking. It could take weeks for the cats to be declared free of the virus (it is contagious for up to three weeks and can live on some surfaces for days), so in the meantime, they’re confined to the quarantine center under the care of professional animal crisis workers from all over the country.
Experts are baffled about how H7N2 found its way into a cat in 2016. The strain was last seen over 10 years ago in poultry market birds (both in NYC and elsewhere) and until recently, it was believed that the first cat to fall ill was one named Mimi from the flagship city shelter in East Harlem. She was initially diagnosed with a canine flu virus, H3N2, but further tests determined that it was H7N2.
However, it was later discovered that a kitten named Alfred (“Patient Zero”) who had been brought to a shelter in the Bronx in late October had fallen ill shortly after being adopted and died on Nov. 12. Alfred had H7N2 — but nobody knows where he got it.
Thanks to the animal crisis workers and the local ASPCA volunteers, the virus is abating and the cats should be released to shelters and adopters soon.
No other H7N2 outbreaks or H7N2 infections in cats in the United States have been reported, so unless you recently adopted your cat from an ACC animal shelter in New York City, the chance of your cat having the virus is extremely low. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, H7N2 is only “slightly transmissible to humans” and causes only mild illness.