Public Health Advisory: Recent Animal Rabies Cases
New Jersey has both raccoon and bat rabies virus variants, existing in separate ecologic cycles in the State. Raccoons cycle the raccoon variant, and the wildlife species most commonly infected by rabid raccoons are (in order of incidence) skunks, foxes and groundhogs. Bat variant rabies virus cycles predominately among the bat population, and is a significant public health concern because the majority of human rabies cases acquired in the United States are from bat exposures. However, all mammals are susceptible to all variants of the rabies virus.
During the first half of 2014, New Jersey had 107 terrestrial animals and 18 bat confirmed to be infected with rabies via testing at the New Jersey Public Health and Environmental Laboratories. This is less than the 138 positive cases identified in the first half of 2013. Burlington and Monmouth counties had the highest number of rabies cases. Burlington had 18 raccoons, 2 skunks, 1 cat and 4 bats test positive for rabies. Monmouth had 16 raccoons, 1 skunk, 1 fox, 1 cat, and 2 bats confirmed rabid.
Burlington County had the state's first bat and cat rabies cases of the year. Bats have ended hibernation or returned from southern climates and are now active in New Jersey. Local health department staff can expect to receive calls related to bat exposures and bats in homes until they hibernate or migrate in the late fall. In the event of exposure, post-exposure prophylaxis should be considered immediately and bats should be safely captured and delivered for testing at the New Jersey Department of Health Rabies Laboratory.
Cats represent approximately 90% of the rabies cases in domestic animals. Accordingly, the DOH recommends that local public health and animal control agencies continue the effective rabies prevention efforts for dogs and focus additional prevention and vaccination efforts targeting cats, especially free-roaming cars. Educational efforts should target persons who provide care for or have contact with free-roaming cats. Cat owners should be encouraged to keep cats vaccinated against rabies and house them exclusively indoors or contained on a property instead of free-roaming to minimize their contact with raccoons and other potentially rabid wildlife.
For more information on rabies visit the DOH website (http://nj.gov/health/cd/topics/rabies.shtml) or contact the DOH Infectious and Zoonotic Disease Program at 609-826-4872.
Resources from New Jersey Department of Health Communicable Disease Service: