Can You Get Bird Flu From Your Cat?

Image courtesy of Karamellzucker

At first glance, the above headline might seem like a no-brainer — “Cats aren’t birds, silly!” you might be thinking. But what if your favorite feline caught bird flu — would that mean you’re at risk for catching the bug, too?

It’s a question that has come up in New York recently, where the health department says [PDF] at least 45 shelter cats have been infected by a rare strain of avian flu identified as H7N2 by a University of Wisconsin-Madison lab.

“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,” Dr. Jay Varma, deputy commissioner for disease control with the city’s health department, tells NPR.

The city alerted pet owners to the discovery last week, noting that humans who come into contact with the cats should be safe.

“H7N2 virus has been spreading from cat to cat. There is no evidence at this time that it is causing human disease, and the risk of H7N2 virus spreading from a cat to a person is thought to be low,” health officials explained.

That being said, if your animal is sick, don’t let it kiss or lick your face, and resist cuddling your kitty if it has flu-like symptoms. It’s especially important to be careful if you have a compromised immune system, “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,” the advisory notes.

Those symptoms are similar to what you might see in a human: lip smacking, persistent cough, runny nose, and fever.

As for the infected cats themselves, they’re doing okay, Varma says. They’re being separated from the healthy felines and the shelter has posted a sign on the door requesting that anyone with a cat wait in the foyer.