BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
The city’s Health Department is trying to determine what the cat dragged in after hundreds of felines were taken to a Long Island City warehouse following the discovery that they had been exposed to a strain of the avian flu.
The warehouse, located on Austell Place, is temporarily sheltering the cats, which have been exposed to H7N2, a type of avian influenza that is also known as the bird flu.
The shelter was coordinated by the Health Department, Animal Care Centers of NYC (ACC) and the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), and was funded by Maddie’s Fund to provide daily care while veterinary experts closely monitor the cats during a 45- to 90-day quarantine period.
“Responders from the ASPCA, ACC and other agencies are working around the clock to safely monitor and care for these cats,” said ASPCA president and CEO Matt Bershadker.
As of last week, more than 450 cats from ACC shelters in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island were transported to the temporary Long Island City shelter by ACC and the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals. Although some cats are doing well and settling in at the shelter, others are showing mild flu-like symptoms such as sneezing or runny nose. This is why the cats are being quarantined at the facility until ongoing lab tests, conducted by the Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, determine that the animals are healthy and no longer contagious.
While the virus is said to occasionally mutate and transfer to mammals, such as cats, the investigation of the H7N2 virus by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) confirmed that the risk to humans is low, given that there has only been one cat-to-human transmission—and no human-to-human transmission—associated with the outbreak.
However, to ensure the safety of both the responders and cats, the ASPCA has implemented strict protocols, such as decontamination training and personal protective equipment for all the individuals who are in direct contact with the cats.
“Once the cats are healthy and no longer contagious, we’ll do everything we can to help them find homes,” Bershadker said.
The ASPCA and ACC encourage all New Yorkers who have adopted a cat from an ACC shelter between Nov. 12 and Dec. 15 to monitor their pets for flu-like symptoms, such as sneezing, coughing, runny nose and runny or red eyes. If these symptoms appear, owners are also encouraged to take their cats to a veterinarian and inform him/her that the cat may have been exposed to H7N2, so that he/she can make arrangements to prevent exposure of the virus to other cats in the clinic.
“We continue to urge New Yorkers who have adopted cats from ACC shelters to be on alert for symptoms in their pets and take proper precautions,” city Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said.
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144 or firstname.lastname@example.org