For historical and detailed information about rabies in the United States visit
the Health Department Rabies page.
What does a rabid animal look like?
Rabies may appear in either the “furious” form or the “dumb” form. Animals with the “furious” form may appear to be agitated, bite or snap at imaginary and real objects, and drool excessively. In the “dumb” form, wild animals may appear tame and seem to have no fear of humans. If you see an animal displaying the common signs of rabies listed below you should contact animal control or the police department.
- Appearing excessively drunk or wobbly
- Acting disorientated
- Displaying no fear of humans
- Walking in circles
- Partially paralyzed
- Mutilating itself
How is rabies transmitted?
Transmission of the rabies virus usually begins when infected saliva of a host is passed to an uninfected animal. The most common mode of rabies virus transmission is through a bite and from an infected animal. Scratches or cuts can also leave the skin vulnerable to saliva droplets entering the body and causing transmission of the virus. Though rare, transmission has been documented via other routes such as contamination of mucous membranes (i.e., eyes, nose, mouth), aerosol transmission, and corneal and organ transplantations.
All species of mammals are susceptible to rabies virus infection, but only a few species are important as reservoirs for the disease. In the United States, distinct strains of rabies virus have been identified in raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes. Several species of insectivorous bats are also reservoirs for strains of the rabies virus.
When should I seek medical attention?
It is important to remember that rabies is of medical urgency. The rabies virus is transmitted through saliva or brain/nervous system tissue. You can only get rabies by coming in contact with these specific bodily excretions and tissues from an infected animal. If you have come into contact with a wild animal or been bitten by any kind of mammal you should consult with your doctor and the Animal Control Officer or Health Officer. Decisions should not be delayed. See your doctor for attention for any animal bite or any injuries due to an animal attack.
Wash any wounds immediately. One of the most effective ways to decrease the chance for infection is to wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water. Your doctor, possibly in consultation with your state or local health department, will decide if you need a rabies vaccination. Decisions to start vaccination, known as postexposure prophylaxis (PEP), will be based on your type of exposure and the animal you were exposed to. Current vaccines are relatively painless and are given in your arm, like a flu or tetanus vaccine.
What are the signs and symptoms of rabies?
Once clinical signs of rabies appear, the disease is nearly always fatal. The acute period of disease typically ends in coma and death after 2 to 10 days.
Following an exposure the rabies virus will typically incubate for a period of 1–3 months, but may vary from <1 week to >1 year, dependent upon factors such as location of rabies entry and rabies viral load. Disease prevention includes an injection of human immune globulin and a round of injections with rabies vaccine which must be done well before symptoms appear. The first symptoms of rabies may be very similar to those of the flu including general weakness or discomfort, fever, or headache. These symptoms may last for days. There may be also discomfort or a prickling or itching sensation at the site of bite, progressing within days to symptoms of cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, confusion, agitation. Within days the disease progresses to the acute phase, the person may experience delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, and insomnia before coma and death. Once a person begins to exhibit signs of the disease, survival is rare. To date less than 10 documented cases of human survival from clinical rabies have been reported and only two did not have a history of pre- or post exposure prophylaxis.
Animal Rabies in Princeton
Raccoons and bats are the most commonly rabid animal currently found in Princeton. The Princeton Health Department urges parents to speak with their children about not approaching wild animals, specifically raccoons. Property owners are also urged to monitor the exterior of dwellings to ensure there are no openings which may allow the entry of bats. The best time of the day to do this is at dusk when bats will typically leave their roosts and hunt for flying insects. Bats can be seen exiting through eaves, vents or from behind shutters or siding. If you notice an opening in the exterior and have reason to believe bats have been entering/exiting your home, contact a licensed pest control company, or the Princeton Health Department for guidance.
New Jersey: Between 1971 and September 2015, two people have died of rabies in New Jersey.