Rabies Control Activities
In 2001, the department had a report of a potentially rabid cat that attacked several people in Lodi. The department’s public health professionals swung into action. To resolve potential rabies exposure incidents, staff from nursing, consumer health services and health promotion work together as a team.
In the Lodi incident, animal control officers captured the cat for testing. Public health nurses followed up on the bite victims to help ensure adherence to the treatment regimen.Once the cat was confirmed rabid, the health officer went to the media to publicize the incident. The purpose was to discover if other persons had been exposed and help ensure all exposed persons would seek treatment.To further increase awareness, health educators created a flyer that was distributed door to door by environmental health specialists.
While the number of people exposed to rabies through animal bites remains low and no one has died from rabies in New Jersey since 1971, the significance of a bite remains a high priority for public health officials. Once symptoms appear, rabies is a fatal disease. The only treatment is to promptly administer a series of shots. As a result, an animal bite requires an enormous amount of interdisciplinary investigation and follow-up.
Since 1991, the department has monitored a countywide rabies epizootic. An epizootic occurs when a disease is widespread in the animal population, in this case, raccoons and bats. Both species can transmit rabies directly to humans through a bite, but the more usual route is though a dog or cat bite or scratch.
A total of 498 animal bites were investigated in 2001, most of which were dog-tohuman, some cat-to-human, and the remainder animal-to-animal. Investigation includes contact follow-up and animal quarantine. In 2001, 11 cases of animal rabies were confirmed, a decrease of six from the previous year. Nursing staff assured compliance with the post-exposure rabies protocols for the 11 individuals who had contact with rabid animals, as well as for 46 individuals who experienced an animal bite or scratch, but were unable to locate the animal for examination.
The 11 cases of animal rabies in 2001 consisted of two skunks, three raccoons, two groundhogs, two bats, one horse and one cat. Since the beginning of the epizootic in October 1991, there have been 254 confirmed cases of rabies in animals.
An important strategy for rabies prevention remains dog and cat licensing, which requires rabies vaccination. Although dog licensing is mandated in New Jersey, cat licensing is not, and requirements vary by municipality.
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