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NYC taking all possible precautions after veterinarian contracts rare strain of bird flu

EAST HARLEM, Manhattan — The animal care center — formerly called the animal care and control center — has, in the past 10 days, been the location of two public health challenges that have never been seen before: a case of a cat contracting bird flu and now, the case of a human contracting that same flu strain from cats.

Despite the one-of-a-kind nature of these influenza scenarios, the city's public health department is trying to downplay any concerns people might have.

"My job is to tell them not to freak out," said Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the assistant commissioner of public health, in an interview on Friday.

He pointed out that potentially infected cats have been quarantined from the rest of the animals at all city shelters. He added that the person who contracted this avian flu strain, called H7N2, did so under circumstances that are far different than most those in which people usually interact with cats.

"This person is a veterinarian" at the animal care center, said Daskalakis. "We're talking about someone who had multiple exposures to many sick cats in a very invasive way, without respiratory protection."

"So if anybody in the world is going to get avian flu from a cat," Dr. Daskalakis said, "it's going to be someone who has such close contact with those secretions."

Still, the city is taking every possible precaution, as Phoebe Tyers and Matt Weir, who'd dropped off at the ACC shelter a dog they'd rescued, pointed out.

"When we first walked in, they were like, 'Is that a cat?'" Tyers said. "[It was] like really intense, and we said, 'No.' Even when we were walking in, some guys had a carrier and they were walking by and these other dudes were like, 'Wait, is that a cat?' They're just like yelling at anyone with a carrier, making sure they don't have cats."

The city is advising anyone with flu-like symptoms to see a doctor.