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All areas of the State of New Jersey, including urban centers, have been affected by this rabies outbreak. Suburban areas in which raccoons, people and pets are in close proximity have had the highest number of cases.
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In the earlier part of this century, New Jersey had a large problem with rabies in dogs. In 1939, the worst year for dog rabies, 675 dogs and four humans died of rabies. In 1942, a rabies program consisting of mass vaccination of dogs, and pick-up of stray animals was initiated. As a result of these efforts, New Jersey experienced its last case of canine rabies in 1956. In 1960, the first case of rabies in bats was detected in New Jersey. Presently, 2% to 5% of all New Jersey bats submitted to the state laboratory for testing are positive for rabies.
In 1997, a New Jersey man was diagnosed with rabies. He had removed bats from his house and may have been bitten by a bat in the process. This was the first human case of rabies since 1971, when a man was bitten by a bat and received partial treatment with the previously used rabies vaccine. The current vaccine, unlike the previous vaccine, has never failed when administered properly.
New Jersey is facing another challenge from rabies. Raccoon rabies has spread throughout the state.
In 1977, rabid raccoons were first detected in West Virginia. It is believed that rabies was present in raccoons imported from Florida into West Virginia by hunters in the 1970s. The disease then spread to other raccoons after they were released. Once raccoon rabies was established in West Virginia and Virginia, it spread at a rate of approximately 25 to 50 miles per year into Maryland, Washington, D.C., Delaware, and Pennsylvania. This rabies epizootic spread into New Jersey through Warren and Hunterdon counties in October 1989. The raccoon rabies epizootic now extends throughout New England and as far west as Ohio, and south into North Carolina. Note: an epizootic is a term used to denote an epidemic of the disease in an animal population).
Wild animals, particularly raccoons, foxes, skunks, groundhogs and bats, are most likely to be infected with rabies. Although raccoons are the most frequently infected animals in the current rabies outbreak, other animals are often bitten and infected by raccoons. Wild animals with rabies do not always display signs of illness and can be perfectly healthy in appearance. Avoid all contact with bats, particularly sick or downed ones. All bites and scratches from these animals should be washed out immediately and receive prompt medical attention. If possible, wild animals that have been exposed to humans or domestic animals should be captured and tested for rabies.
Make sure that all garbage is stored in animal-resistant containers, as raccoons and other wild animals love to feast on your leftovers. Do not leave leftover pet food outdoors as it will attract raccoons. Make sure outbuildings are secure from invasion by raccoons and skunks looking for a cozy place to stay. Chimneys should be capped, as raccoons like to den in chimneys.
Steps should be taken to exclude bats from houses and other structures by sealing the openings they use. This should be done during the winter (November-March) when bats have left for hibernation. The entry points are often near the roof edge such as under the eaves, soffits, and bands around the chimney. A variety of materials can be used to seal openings including 1/4 inch hardware cloth, fly screening, sheet metal, wood caulking, expandable polyurethane, or fiberglass insulation.
Yes, unvaccinated domestic animals can contract rabies from wild animals and transmit the infection to humans. There are safe and effective vaccines to protect dogs, cats, horses, cattle, and sheep against rabies. You can get your pet vaccinated at a private veterinarian's office or at a municipal-sponsored rabies clinic (call your municipal clerk to ask about rabies clinics held in your area). Unvaccinated pets or livestock that has had contact with a known or suspects rabid animal must be euthanized to avoid the risk of coming down with rabies, or placed in strict isolation from humans and other animals for a period of six months until it is certain that the animal is free of rabies.
Raccoons are very good at spreading rabies. When rabid raccoons enter an area, many other types of animals acquire rabies from raccoons. From 1989 through 2000, over 4,300 New Jersey animals were found to have rabies as a result of the raccoon rabies epizootic. Although 77% of these animals were raccoons, 14% were skunks, 4% were cats, 2% were foxes, and 2% were groundhogs. Twelve other species of animals were also diagnosed with rabies.
An oral rabies vaccine for raccoons in a fish-flavored bait, called V-RG, has been tested in southern New Jersey and shown to be effective. This vaccine has recently been approved for general use by the United States Department of Agriculture and could be used by municipalities to reduce or control the spread of rabies in raccoon populations. However, state review and approval is needed to purchase this vaccine and its use would not replace traditional rabies control measures, such as domestic animal vaccination and animal control activities.
If a dog or cat bites a human, the animal must be observed for ten days to see if symptoms of rabies develop. This is necessary even if it has been vaccinated, as very rarely, vaccination fails to protect an animal and it develops rabies disease. At the longest, a dog or cat can have rabies virus in its saliva for only 2-3 days before it develops rabies symptoms. Therefore we know that if a dog or cat remains healthy for at least 10 days after it bites someone, it could not have had the rabies virus in its saliva at the time of the bite. If an animal does not have virus in its saliva, it cannot transmit the disease through a bite.
Yes - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been conducting studies on the viral shedding period of ferrets infected with different strains of rabies virus. Results of these studies have shown that the viral shedding time for ferrets is very short, similar to that of dogs and cats. In light of this data, the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services recommends that a 10-day observation period be utilized in the event a ferret bites a person. However, because of their propensity to bite, the Department discourages the keeping of ferrets as pets in households with small children. There are several well documented reports of ferrets attacking and severely biting infants. Anyone owning a ferret should take extra precautions to ensure that the animal does not bite anyone.
Squirrels, mice, and other small rodents have only very rarely been found to have rabies, and have never been known to transmit rabies to humans or other animals. In general, postexposure treatment is not recommended after a bite from one of these animals unless it is unusually vicious or appears obviously ill. Groundhogs are the only rodents that are likely to be infected with rabies virus in areas where raccoons are commonly found to be rabid.
Blood testing of suspect rabid animals is not a reliable method of diagnosis for rabies. The only sure method for determining if an animal has rabies is to remove a piece of its brain and look for the presence of the rabies virus under the microscope with a special fluorescent antibody test technique.
Rabies virus infection most commonly occurs when a rabid animal bites an individual. Rabies can also occur when infected saliva from a rabid animal contaminates an open wound (one which was bleeding within the past 24 hours), a scratch or skin abrasion, or a mucous membrane.
In addition to saliva and the salivary glands, tissues and fluid of the central nervous system (i.e., brain and spinal cord) contain high amounts of the virus. Virus is rarely found in other body organs and fluids.People cannot get rabies by just petting an animal or even by getting saliva contaminated with rabies virus onto their intact skin. In order for them to get rabies, the virus must come in contact with a recent wound or break in the skin or the virus must get onto their mucous membranes (such as into the eye or mouth). However, any physical contact with a bat is considered a possible exposure to the rabies virus and should be carefully evaluated for post-exposure rabies treatment. Bats have such tiny teeth that a bite may go undetected.
4. Coma - 0-14 days
5. Death, or extremely rarely, recover
There is no known effective treatment for rabies once symptoms develop. Rabies can be prevented if rabies immunoglobulin and vaccine are given shortly after exposure to the virus. This is called rabies post-exposure treatment.
Rabies post-exposure treatment is no longer the painful process that it used to be. The current vaccines are much safer and more effective than the previously used vaccine. Postexposure treatment begins with a dose of rabies immune globulin administered partially around the wound, if possible, and partially in the gluteal region. This is followed by a series of 5 vaccinations given over 28 days. This vaccine has been extensively used for over fifteen years with very few significant side effects. The vaccine is given in the upper arm, instead of the stomach.
The chances of getting rabies depends upon the type of exposure (such as bite) and where on your body the exposure occurred. In general, penetrating bite wounds to areas of the body with a rich nerve supply is the highest risk. Studies have shown that not all bites from rabid animals result in infection with the rabies virus. However, since there is no treatment for this disease once symptoms begin, it is recommended that all persons exposed to a known or suspected rabid animal should receive rabies post-exposure treatment. Immediately washing the exposed area with water and soap is also an important factor in helping to prevent infection.