The Cape May County Department of Health is urging residents to have their pets vaccinated against rabies. The warning comes after a skunk tested positive for rabies on Wednesday in the Cape May Court House section of Middle Township.
“This is a reminder to all other residents to check your pet’s vaccination and health records and make sure they are current,” Cape May County Health Officer Kevin Thomas said in an open letter published by the county Department of Health on Wednesday.
Rabies is a fatal disease in human and animals that is transmitted via the saliva of those infected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a case of rabies almost always results in death.
All animal bites should be taken seriously and people should wash their wounds and seek medical attention immediately if an animal bites them. Those bitten by an animal are also being asked to report the incident to their municipal animal control agencies and to the county Department of Health. Those that are in any way exposed to the saliva or blood of a wild or stray animal are also being asked to call their doctor and local health department.
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The Wednesday letter further warns that any contact someone’s pet has with a wild animal should be reported to one’s veterinarian, as well as the county Department of Health, immediately — especially if they have been exposed to a bat, raccoon, skunk or any wild carnivore .
“Protecting your pets by keeping them current on their rabies vaccine is an important buffer between wildlife rabies and human exposure,” Cape May County Commissioner Jeffrey Pierson said in the letter. “Not only does the vaccine keep your pet safe, but it can help keep you and your family safe as well.”
In addition to the Cape May County cases, there have been multiple animal rabies cases in Atlantic County this year, including one in a Northfield raccoon and another in a Pleasantville cat.
People who are exposed to what they suspect to be a rabid animal are to begin taking the rabies vaccine as soon as possible.
The vaccine is highly effective in preventing rabies in dogs and cats, according to the county Department of Health. The CDC notes that the vaccine can prevent rabies in people if administered to them after exposure to the virus. Those who have not previously been vaccinated against rabies and suspect they have been exposed to the virus are generally instructed by the CDC to get four shots of the vaccine administered over two weeks.
Those who have been vaccinated in the past and have later been exposed to the rabies virus typically need two shots of the vaccine.
The county Department of Health is also urgently vulnerable people to take several other steps to prevent the spread of rabies:
• Avoid animals that one is not familiar with.
• Teach children to let their parents or guardians know if they have been bitten or scratched by an animal.
• Do not feed or touch wild or stray animals, especially stray bats, cats, foxes, groundhogs raccoons or skunks. The letter warned that rabid bats are particularly dangerous, as bats are not typically thought of as a rabies risk and their bites can be imperceptible due to their small teeth. Anyone who is exposed to a bat should have that bat captured and then subjected to rabies testing. If the bat cannot be tested for rabies, any person exposed to the bat should begin a regimen of the rabies vaccine. The letter cited a CDC statistic that bats are responsible for around 70% of rabies deaths in the United States. The CDC rabies web page indicates that dogs are carriers of rabies in other parts of the world and most rabies deaths globally are caused by dog bites.
About 5,000 rabies cases in animals are reported to the CDC annually, with more than 90% occurring in wildlife.
Cases of human rabies are rare in the United States, with the CDC saying only around one to three cases are reported in the country annually. Human deaths from rabies typically occur in those who do not seek prompt medical care when exposed to rabies. It credited animal control, pet-vaccination campaigns and outreach programs as important reasons as why rabies deaths have declined over the last five decades.
The county Health Department letter instructed that anyone wishing to learn more about rabies should visit http://www.nj.gov/health/cd/topics/rabies.shtml or call Kittie Walton at (609) 465-1210. The letter advises that people like the Cape May County Department of Health on Facebook to receive further information about public health.
Contact Chris Doyle