H7N2 Questions & Answers

Cats can make great companions, but cat owners should be aware that cats can carry germs that can make people sick. Keep in mind that even cats that appear healthy can spread germs to people and other animals. Always wash your hands with soap and running water after contact with cats, cat saliva or feces, and after cleaning a litter box. Thoroughly washing your hands can help reduce the risk of disease transmission between people and pets. More advice on staying healthy while enjoying your pet cat can be found at Healthy Pets, Healthy People: Cats.

What is H7N2?

H7N2 is an influenza virus that normally circulates in birds. Avian influenza viruses, commonly known as “bird flu” or “avian flu,” do not normally infect humans, but rare cases of human infection have occurred in the past. Most often, human infections with bird flu viruses result from direct contact with infected birds.

Recently CDC became aware of an outbreak of low pathogenic avian influenza A (H7N2) virus (LPAI H7N2) among cats in animal shelters in New York City. One human infection was detected in a person who had close, prolonged unprotected exposure to the respiratory secretions of H7N2 infected, sick cats at an affected shelter. For people who are in close contact with infected cats, the risk of infection is thought to be low. However, it is possible that additional human infections could occur.

Is this H7N2 virus the same as ‘cat flu’?

No, ‘cat flu’ is an everyday term people use to describe infections in cats caused by two viruses that are not actually influenza viruses. One is feline calicivirus, and the other is a feline herpes virus. These viruses cannot be transmitted to humans.

How can I tell if my cat has H7N2?

At this time, H7N2 infections have only been found in cats associated with animal shelters in New York City (specifically, the Animal Care Centers of New York City’s (ACC) shelters). No other H7N2 outbreaks or H7N2 infections in cats in the United States have been reported. Therefore, unless your cat recently came from an ACC animal shelter in New York City, the likelihood of your cat having H7N2 is extremely low.

 Top of Page

How does influenza virus spread in cats?

While cats have been reported to occasionally be infected from people with human seasonal influenza viruses, infection with avian influenza such as from infected poultry is known but is not common. However, influenza in cats can spread the same way that human flu spreads—through direct contact (licking, nuzzling); through the air (droplets made from coughing or sneezing, including nasal discharge); and via contaminated surfaces (such as food and water bowls, cages, or through touch). Also, germs in cat saliva may be transferred onto the cat’s coat during grooming and can spread germs to people during contact (e.g., petting, kissing) and can also contaminate the pet’s environment.

How can a person catch a flu virus from a cat?

Generally, a person can get infected with a flu virus when enough of the virus gets into their eyes, nose or mouth, or is inhaled (from droplets or possibly dust containing the virus). People can potentially get flu from a sick cat by touching virus-containing secretions from the cat and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. Also, sick cats may cough or sneeze, which can expel droplets containing the virus into the air that a person can breathe in or that can enter a person’s eyes, nose or mouth.

What are the symptoms of influenza in cats?

While not common, influenza infection in cats has generally resulted in mild illness. Although not all sick cats may develop symptoms, cats infected with influenza virus can develop respiratory illness with the following signs and symptoms:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Discharge from the nose or eyes
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of appetite

Some cats with influenza virus could become severely ill with other complications including pneumonia or secondary bacterial infections. Cats infected with the H7N2 influenza virus in the current outbreak in NYC animal shelters also have shown signs of persistent cough, lip smacking, runny nose, and fever.

 Top of Page

Why is CDC concerned about H7N2?

As part of CDC’s mission to protect the public from emerging health threats, CDC monitors changes in flu viruses found in human and animal populations. Finding a bird flu virus in an unexpected animal, like a cat, is always concerning, because it means the virus has changed in a way that may pose a new health threat. Animal viruses that gain the ability to infect humans are especially concerning because most people will not have existing immune protection against such viruses. Also, there is potential for a pandemic (a global outbreak of disease) to occur when a new animal virus gains the ability to infect humans and also has the ability to spread efficiently from person to person. For these reasons, these incidents must be carefully investigated and appropriate actions taken to ensure that there is no ongoing spread of the novel virus among people.

Is H7N2 dangerous for cats and humans?

The H7N2 virus has been shown to spread quickly in cats, and while most cats infected this far have experienced mild to moderate illness, at least one cat has died. Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness, and any influenza virus, including H7N2, has the potential to cause mild to severe illness or severe flu complications. Of the two previously known cases of human infection with H7N2 virus infection (which occurred in 2002 and 2003 [185 KB, 4 Pages]), both experienced mild to moderate illness and both recovered.

Is there a human vaccine for H7N2? Will this season’s flu vaccine protect me against H7N2?

No, right now there is no human vaccine to protect against this virus, and this season’s flu vaccine does not offer protection against H7N2. There is a candidate vaccine virus (CVV) in the U.S. pandemic preparedness stockpile that could be provided to flu vaccine manufactures to mass produce a H7N2 flu vaccine in the case of an emergency. CDC will conduct tests to see whether this existing H7N2 CVV would offer protection against the 2016 H7N2 virus.

Is there treatment for a person infected with the H7N2 virus?

Yes, flu antiviral drugs are used to treat seasonal flu illness in children and adults, and what we know about this H7N2 virus so far suggests that currently approved and recommended antiviral drugs should work.

Studies on other flu viruses have shown that early treatment works better and is especially important for people with a higher risk for flu complications.

 Top of Page

Which groups of people are at high risk for developing serious flu-related complications?

CDC believes that the same people who are at high risk of developing complications from seasonal flu would also be at higher risk of serious illness from H7N2. This includes the following: children younger than 5-years-old, especially younger than 2-years-old, people 65 years and older, pregnant women, and people with certain long-term health conditions (like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, weakened immune systems, and neurological or neurodevelopmental conditions).

A full list of people at high risk of flu-related complications is available at People at High Risk of Developing Flu-Related Complications.

Flu complications, depending on their severity, can possibly require hospitalization and sometimes result in death. Consequently, if you own a pet exhibiting flu symptoms, do not allow your sick animal to kiss or lick your face, and it is advisable not to cuddle with your animal if it has a flu-like illness.

Can I get H7N2 from my cat?

If your cat does not have H7N2, you cannot get H7N2 from your cat. If your cat has H7N2, the risk of you getting H7N2 from contact with your cat is low, but likely increases with duration and intensity of exposure.

Can I get H7N2 if I don’t have contact with cats?

Based on what is known at this time, CDC believes that for people who have no contact with infected cats the risk of H7N2 infection is very low.

How many people have been infected with H7N2 in the United States?

Recently one human infection with H7N2 virus was identified in a veterinarian who was caring for sick cats. That infection was associated with an outbreak of H7N2 virus among cats in animal shelters in New York City.

Previously there have been two human infections with similar H7N2 viruses in the United States, occurring in 2002 and 2003. One of these infections was associated with exposure to sick birds (poultry). The second source of infection could not be determined. Both people who became ill as a result of H7N2 virus infection recovered completely.

 Top of Page

What is CDC doing about the H7N2 situation in New York City?

CDC is in close communication with human and animal health partners about this situation and supporting the on-the-ground response, which is being led by public health and animal health experts in New York City.

What should I do if I have a cat?

If you have a cat, it’s not necessary to do more than you normally do to protect yourself from germs that cats carry. CDC recommends washing your hands with running water and soap after contact with cats, their feces, litter box, and their food. It’s also important to seek routine veterinary care for your cat. Healthy Pets, Healthy People: Cats.

If your cat seems ill, do not allow your cat to kiss or lick your face, and consult your veterinarian as you normally would.

What should I do if my cat has respiratory symptoms?

Respiratory illness in cats can be caused by many different medical problems including many types of pathogens. Contact your pet’s veterinarian to help determine the cause and the best course of treatment.

What should I do while my cat is sick?

Because of concerns about diseases that can spread between pets and people, young children, senior citizens, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems should avoid contact with sick pets.

 Top of Page

Should I avoid places where cats are present?

It is not necessary to avoid places where cats are present. Based on what is known at this time, CDC believes that the risk of human infection from contact with infected cats is low.

Are there things I should do, even if I’m not around cats?

As always, take time to get an annual flu vaccine as soon as flu vaccine becomes available in your community, to protect yourself from the human seasonal flu viruses that are most likely to circulate this season.

Is H7N2 the same as seasonal flu?

No, H7N2 virus is a non-human, avian influenza virus that normally circulates in birds. Seasonal influenza viruses normally circulate in humans and include H1N1, H3N2 and B-lineage viruses.