Sussex County Rabies Cases

Source: New Jersey Herald

Sussex County Health Officer Jennifer Shortino has provided information which shows the first four months of 2023 saw 184 reported cases of humans being bit by animals, the most in the opening months of a year in the past six years.

By state health law all animal bites, except from agricultural livestock, must be reported to the health department which then begins an investigation of the case. Dogs and cats usually lead the list and most often those pet animals have received rabies vaccinations.

In April there were 39 cases investigated, with 22 of them dogs and 10 from cats. The department said there were another two each reported bites from raccoons and coyote, and one each from a bat, a fox and a pet coati, a relative of raccoons which is native to the southwestern U.S.

Transmission of rabies isn’t always from a bite — it can also be caused by exposure to the saliva of the infected animal.

Ten of the 56 cases investigated in March resulted in animals being sent to the state for testing and of those, three tested positive, including a raccoon in Wantage, a bat in Hamburg and a bat from Hampton.

The rabies virus infects the central nervous system of mammals, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death. The vast majority of rabies cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year occur in wild animals like bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes, although any mammal can get rabies.

The raccoon population in the eastern U.S. is the most common source of rabies, but bats are the leading cause of rabies deaths in people in the United States. In 2021, there were five raccoon cases and one each in a fox, a cat and a woodchuck. Since 1989, when the raccoon strain of rabies was first detected, the county has had 482 confirmed rabies cases.

The first symptoms of rabies can be nonspecific and include lethargy, fever and vomiting. As the disease progresses, the affected animal can get hostile and may try to bite or attack you or other animals.

Animals with rabies look like they are foaming at the mouth. What´s really happening is that the rabies creates more saliva and makes the animal drool. Other animals may act timid or shy when they have rabies. The virus attacks an animal’s brain, which is what laboratories test to confirm the disease. That’s why it’s best to avoid wild animals, even if they appear “friendly.”

People suspected of rabies receive what is known as Postexposure Prophylaxis (PEP) treatment — a dose of human rabies immune globulin and rabies vaccine given on the day of exposure followed by three more doses over the following two weeks.

Fatal cases of rabies in people in New Jersey is rare, with just two in the past 60 years. One occurred in 1971 and the other in 1997.

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