Editorial-June 21, 2007

Stay alert for signs of rabies in local animals

By: Mae Rhine
   Rabies cases are on the rise in Hunterdon County.
   So far this year there have been 11 confirmed cases: eight raccoons, two cats and one fox. That’s up slightly from last year’s eight cases as of this time: four raccoons, two cats, a skunk and a bovine.
   But the cases this year are being found in all corners of the county, according to Hunterdon County Department of Health officials, from Delaware, East Amwell and West Amwell townships to Readington, Tewksbury and Lebanon to Alexandria Township.
   The two rabid cats this year attacked two people in West Amwell and one in neighboring Delaware.
   In the first case, a West Amwell man and a police officer were attacked by the same rabid cat, which seemed tame at first. In the second, a barn cat, again, usually tame, turned on the man who was feeding her, locking onto his leg.
   County officials say there were 12 cases total in 2000, only six in 2001, which tripled to 18 in 2002, then dropped to seven in 2003. In 2004, 2005 and 2006, there were 13 cases in all.
   According to a link from the county health department, rabies is caused by a virus present predominately in the saliva of rabid animals. The virus is transmitted by the bite of an infected animal.
   Rabies virus causes an inflammation of the brain and is almost always fatal once symptoms develop.
   But there is treatment for rabies in humans, however, it involves a series of painful shots. There are things you can do to protect yourself from becoming infected.
   The county has some important information all families need to know at www.co.hunterdon.nj.us/health/rabieswhatyoushouldknow.htm.
   Protect your pets with rabies vaccinations. County officials say the current trend nationwide is a higher incidence of rabies in cats. Although outdoor cats have a greater chance of exposure, indoor cats should be vaccinated as they may get out or wild animals, such as bats or raccoons, may get into houses through open doors, windows or uncapped chimneys.
   Tell your children not to feed or touch wild animals or strays and take precautions to keep them from getting inside. Store all trash or pet food kept outside in animal-resistant containers.
   If you or a family members gets bitten, clean the wound with soap and water, see your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately and report the incident to the county health department.