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Rabies & Animal Diseases Update Page


This area of the NJCACOA web site is devoted to informing the public about animal diseases that may also affect or be transmitted to humans. The areas covered include Rabies, West Nile Virus and Lyme disease. This is informational in nature and we strongly recommend contacting your veterinarian, local Animal Control Officer, health department or your physician for more information and procedures. Click the links below to quickly move to specific diseases:


West Nile Virus

Lyme Disease Tips















General Information

Rabies is caused by a virus that is present in the saliva of infected animals and is transmitted primarily through the bite of an infected animal to people or other animals. Transmission can also occur when saliva from a rabid animal is in contact with an open cut, the mouth or the eyes. The virus binds to nerve tissue and migrates to the brain where it replicates and is then shed in the saliva when the animal becomes ill. The incubation period (the time from exposure to illness) of rabies can vary between 2 weeks to 6 months or longer, but usually is between 1 and 3 months.
It is common practice to quarantine a domestic animal (dog or cat) that bites a person for 10 days. If the animal develops clinical signs of rabies or dies within this period, brain tissue samples are sent to the New Jersey State Rabies Laboratory in Trenton, New Jersey for testing. A positive diagnosis for rabies can be made only by laboratory examination of brain tissue, after the death of the animal.

What are the symptoms of Rabies?

Rabies virus causes an inflammation of the part of the brain which regulates normal behavior, often causing aggressive behavior, and is usually fatal once illness develops. The early clinical signs are subtle and usually include elevated temperature, strange behavior, and difficulty swallowing. Wild animals that are normally out only at night may be seen during the day, approaching humans and domestic pets that they ordinarily would avoid. As the disease progresses, animals may become increasingly agitated, develop repetitious vocalizations, and may attack without fear or provocation. Rabid animals are often extremely aggressive. In a few days after illness onset, animals may develop paralysis, and seizures, before lapsing into a coma and dying.

Which animals are affected by Rabies?

Raccoon rabies spread into New Jersey in 1989 and is now established throughout the State. The majority of these cases are in raccoons but skunks, foxes, groundhogs and cats, especially unvaccinated free-roaming cats, are also commonly documented to be infected with raccoon rabies. There are also strains of rabies associated with bats. Vaccinated pets and small rodents such as squirrel, mice and rats are very low risk for rabies infection. However, all mammals can be infected with rabies.

What are the procedures if a person is bitten or scratched by an animal?

Wash the wound immediately with plenty of water and soap.

Learn as much as you can about the animal. If the animal is with an owner, get the owner's name and address. If it is a wild or stray animal, capture or contain the animal, if it is possible to do without endangering yourself. Look to see if there are any features that will allow you to identify it later on.

Call your local animal control office or police department immediately for assistance.

Contact your physician or local emergency room. Immediately seek medical care for wounds and consultation regarding the need for rabies preventive treatment.

Report the incident to your local health department.

Can rabies be prevented?

Yes, vaccination of dogs, cats, and other domestic animals, including prompt boosters, is a safe and effective way to prevent rabies transmission to humans, well as to pets and other domestic animals. Controlling stray animals through patrolling, capture, and impoundment and/or returning to pets to owners will decrease the spread of rabies. Residents are advised to avoid contact with wildlife and should never feed wild animals or keep them as pets. Do not attempt to remove or re-locate wildlife without consulting a professional. Report all animals that are displaying unusual or vicious behavior to the local Animal Control Office.

Is Raccoon Rabies different from other rabies?

Yes. Raccoon rabies is different from the types of rabies found in bats and other strains that are carried by skunks and foxes elsewhere in the United States (US). Raccoon rabies is a strain of rabies that is spread mainly by raccoons and since there is a large raccoon population in all areas of New Jersey, residents should take precautions to prevent the spread of this strain of the disease.

Do bats carry a different type of rabies?

Throughout the US there are types of the rabies virus associated with bats. Bat rabies is responsible for the majority of human rabies fatalities occurring in the US. In New Jersey, about 40 bats are documented to be infected with rabies annually. Bat bites may be small and undetected so it is recommended to always capture and test bats that have been in contact with people. The local health department and animal control office can assist residents in addressing situations where bats are roosting in and around homes or seen flying in the living space..

The Bottom Line on rabies...

When rabies was first introduced into New Jersey in 1989, there were a large number of animal rabies cases and human exposures as the disease spread throughout the State. Although the number of cases diagnosed in animals has declined, an average of about 280 animal cases are confirmed annually. Rabid raccoons, bats and cats still pose a significant threat of transmitting this disease to people and pets. Public education and preventative measures are effective in keeping this disease under control. For more information please contact your local Animal Control Office, local health department or email the NJCACOA.

April 2011 Rabies Update provided by:

Colin T. Campbell, D.V.M., C.P.M.
Deputy State Public Health Veterinarian

New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services
Infectious and Zoonotic Disease Program
135 E. State St.
P.O. Box 369
Trenton, NJ  08625-0369
Phone: (609) 826-4872
Fax:      (609) 826-4874

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What is West Nile virus encephalitis?

West Nile virus (WNV) encephalitis is a mosquito-borne viral disease, which can cause an inflammation of the brain. WNV is commonly found in Africa, West Asia, the Middle East and Europe, and is closely related to St. Louis encephalitis virus, which was found in New Jersey in 1964 and 1975. For the first time in North America, WNV was confirmed in the New York metropolitan area during the summer and fall of 1999. WNV successfully over-wintered in the northeastern United States and was present in humans, horses, birds, and mosquitoes in 2000 and 2001. West Nile Virus has had sporadic confirmation in the tri-state area over the past decade, including 2010.

How do people get West Nile virus encephalitis?

WNV is transmitted to people by the bite of a mosquito that has become infectious after feeding on a bird infected with the virus. Birds serve as the reservoir hosts of WNV, and the principal vector in the transmission from one bird to another is the northern house mosquito, Culex pipiens and other Culex mosquitoes. WNV has also been found in several species of Aedes mosquitoes, which could serve as bridge vectors by transmitting it to humans or horses.

What are the symptoms of West Nile virus infection?

Most infections produce no symptoms in people, or symptoms are mild or moderate. Symptoms may include: fever, headache, and body aches, often with skin rash and swollen lymph glands. More severe infections may be marked by headache, high fever, neck stiffness, muscle weakness, stupor, disorientation, convulsions, paralysis, coma, and, rarely, death.

What tests does the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) do to determine a human case of West Nile virus encephalitis?

To screen potential cases for WNV, blood and cerebrospinal fluid samples are sent to the Public Health and Environmental Laboratory (PHEL) for an Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) test that detects antibodies IgG & IgM in sera and IgM only in cerebrospinal fluid.

What is a confirmatory test?

If the ELISA test is positive, samples are then forwarded to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for a plaque reduction neutralization test (PRNT), which is the final confirmatory test for WNV in humans.

How is West Nile encephalitis treated?

There is no specific therapy. In more severe cases, intensive supportive therapy is indicated, i.e., hospitalization, intravenous (IV) fluids, airway management, respiratory support (ventilator) if needed, prevention of secondary infections (pneumonia, urinary tract, etc.), and good nursing care.

What is the incubation period in humans?

Symptoms usually appear 5 to 15 days from the time a mosquito carrying WNV infects a person.

Where do people with West Nile virus encephalitis in New Jersey usually become infected?

It is generally not possible to determine where each patient is bitten by infectious mosquitoes. It is most important that residents in all parts of the state take preventive measures to reduce the risk of mosquito bites, as outlined on this page and in other educational materials.

Should outdoor activities in August and September be cancelled when there is evidence of West Nile virus activity?

There is no reason to change plans for outdoor activities, but common sense should be taken to avoid mosquito bites, particularly at dusk and early evening.

What proportion of people die when infected with WNV?

Since the majority of infected persons are asymptomatic, the fatality rate is less than 1%. However, case fatality rates for hospitalized patients may range from 3% to 15%, and are highest in the elderly.

Can you get WNV directly from crows or from other people?

There is no evidence that a person can get the virus from handling live or dead infected birds. However, avoid barehanded contact when handling any dead animal. WNV is NOT transmitted from person-to-person. There is some evidence that crow-to-crow transmission of WNV is possible without mosquito vectors.

What is the basic transmission cycle for WNV?

Mosquitoes become infected by feeding on birds with the virus circulating in their blood. After an incubation period of 10 days to two weeks, the infected mosquitoes can then transmit the virus to other animals or humans when biting to take a second blood meal.

Why are crows, but not most other dead birds, tested for WNV?

From 1999 - 2001, there was a large die-off of crows from WNV in New Jersey and other states. Although other birds can also become infected with the virus, the mortality rate is much lower in other birds. Because crows are extremely susceptible to WNV, they are very useful as sentinels to monitor viral activity.

What agencies conduct the WNV surveillance and provide mosquito control services?

The WNV surveillance plan is coordinated among a number of state and local agencies. They include the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Office of Mosquito Control and Coordination; NJ Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS); Department of Agriculture, Division of Animal Health; Rutgers University, 21 county mosquito control agencies, local health departments, physicians and hospitals, in addition to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other states in the region.

The primary responsibility for mosquito control rests with the 21 county mosquito control agencies. Each agency conducts numerous activities that include: education, surveillance, source reduction and biological and chemical control of larval and adult mosquitoes.

Can West Nile virus cause illness in dogs and cats?

The virus does not usually cause illness in dogs and cats. WNV was isolated from a cat in Union county, New Jersey in 1999, but this is the only case recorded in cats. There is no evidence that a dog or cat can transmit the virus to humans or other animals.

What can I do to reduce my risk of becoming infected with WNV?

Eliminate stagnant water around the home in discarded tires, blocked gutters, unclean birdbaths, poorly maintained pools, and any type of receptacle with decaying organic matter. Limit outdoor activities at dawn, dusk and in the early evening, when possible. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants whenever you are outdoors. Make sure screen doors and windows are in good condition. When outside, use an effective skin or clothing mosquito repellent. Always use a repellent according to the directions on the product label.

Who can I contact to ask about mosquito control spraying in my area?

You can call your county mosquito control agency. As the pesticide applicator, with professional staff licensed to apply mosquito larvicides and adulticides, the county agency can answer questions regarding insecticide applications in your community.

For more information on animal diseases and their transmission, please contact your local Animal Control Office, local Health Department or email the NJCACOA.

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AVOID wooded areas with dense shrubs and leaf litter.

MAKE your yard less attractive to ticks: mow lawns and prune trees.

WEAR solid, light,colored clothing with pants tucked into socks. Use skin and/or clothing insect repellents for you and your pets. Read label directions carefully.

EXAMINE yourself frequently while in tick-infested areas.

PERFORM a full-body exam on yourself, children, and pets after leaving tick habitat.

REMOVE attached ticks promptly.

USE fine-pointed tweezers.

GRASP the tick's mouth parts close to the skin.

APPLY steady outward pressure.

DO NOT use petroleum jelly, noxious chemicals, or hot objects to remove ticks. Improper removal can increase the chances of infection.

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