Traditionally, rabies exists in two forms in a community. The urban form, propagated chiefly by unimmunized cats and dogs, and sylvatic, propagated in North American by bats, coyotes, raccoons, and skunks. Infection in domestic animals represents a "spillover" from sylvatic reservoirs of infection. In the United States today, wildlife accounts for over 90% of reported cases of animal rabies. Every opportunity should be taken to educate the public on the risks of trauma and infectious diseases associated with contact with wild animals.
Controlling Rabies in Animals
The control of rabies in bats and terrestrial mammals is very difficult. Selective population reduction may be useful in terrestrial rabies outbreaks, but the success of these efforts depends on the circumstances surrounding each rabies outbreak episode. It is generally not feasible or desirable to attempt wild carnivore or bat population reductions as a means of rabies control. Wildlife vaccination in New Jersey is not currently indicated due to the rabies strain types present here and the lack of a spreading epizootic.
Animals with rabies may exhibit telltale signs that something is physically wrong:
- Avoidance of food and water
- Bizarre behavior
- Daytime activity in a nocturnal animal (bat, skunk, raccoon, etc.)
- Excessive salivation
- Extreme depression
- Impaired locomotion
- Unusual aggression
- Varying degrees of paralysis (frequently beginning in the hind legs)
These signs indicate that extreme caution must be taken when approaching or attempting to interact with the animal. Generally, a lack of fear of humans is also an unusual behavior for wild animals. Special procedures are often required to trap animals for observation and/or rabies testing. If wild animals drink or eat out of a pet's bowl, there is little or no risk of rabies virus transmission to the pet. However, the practice should be discouraged because it may expose the pet to other illnesses.
Vaccinations in Pets
By 1960, mandatory vaccination of dogs in the United States largely controlled canine and human rabies. This immune barrier has been established nationwide at a cost of over $300 million annually. Cats are also vaccinated for rabies but it is not mandatory and feline rabies are now more common than canine rabies in the United States. With the widespread vaccination of cats and dogs in the United States, most endemic human rabies is a result of contact with rabid wildlife, particularly bats.
Animal Rabies Outside of the United States
Rabies has traditionally been associated with dogs more than any other animal, and in parts of the world where domestic animal control and vaccination programs are limited, dogs remain the most important reservoir of the disease for people. Other domestic and farm animals can be rabid, too, though, and rabies occurs in a variety of wild animal species found in other countries.
Consequently, persons who have been bitten by any animal in another country should be fully evaluated as soon as possible by health authorities in that country and by their personal physician in the U.S. Local health departments can assist physicians with this evaluation.
Animal Rabies Within the United States
While dog rabies is a major problem in much of the world, in the United States, animal control and vaccination programs assure that rabies remains rare in dogs, cats, and other domestic animals. In this country, over 90% of animal rabies cases occur in wildlife. Rabies has been detected in many different wild animal species.
Reservoirs of Terrestrial Rabies
However, certain geographically distinct reservoirs of terrestrial rabies exist, each with its own variants of the virus. The boundaries of these reservoirs shift constantly. Within each area, rabies transmission occurs predominantly within the dominant reservoir species - with occasional "spillover infection" to other species. There are currently four terrestrial reservoir species in the U.S.: raccoons, skunks, foxes and coyotes. In addition to these reservoirs of terrestrial rabies, indigenous rabid bats have been found in every state except Hawaii.
Animal Rabies in New Jersey
In 2014, there were 348 laboratory confirmed cases of rabies in animals. Wildlife accounts for the largest percentage of the rabid animals tested. Cats have accounted for 90% of the domestic animal cases in New Jersey since 1989. For the last five years there has been an average of 16 cats infected with rabies annually.
All areas of the State of New Jersey, including urban centers, have been affected by the raccoon rabies epizootic. Suburban areas in which raccoons, people and pets are in close proximity have had the highest number of cases. From 1989 through 2010, over 6,000 New Jersey animals were confirmed to have rabies. Rabies is well established in raccoon, skunk and bat populations in New Jersey. Every opportunity should be taken to educate the public on the risks of trauma and infectious diseases associated with contact with wild animals.
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.