Rabies cases expected to spike during spring and summer in NJ
Rabid animals are counted by the hundreds each year in New Jersey. Nearly 50 cases were spotted in the first quarter of 2015, and that number is expected to shoot up during the warmer months.
According to state public health veterinarian Dr. Colin Campbell with the New Jersey Department of Health, the viral disease cycles most quickly in the late spring and early summer when animals are more likely to "mix" and mate. Rabies is spread through the bite of an infected animal.
"The rabies we have is spread primarily by raccoons, and the raccoons are very good at infecting skunks, groundhogs and foxes," Campbell said.
Raccoons accounted for 43 of the 49 reported cases in New Jersey between the start of 2015 and the end of March.
Since then, a coyote that attacked a Saddle River man was later determined to be rabid.
However, bats and cats pose the biggest threat of transmitting rabies to humans. The DOH website said cats have accounted for 90 percent of domestic animal cases since 1989.
There were 348 total animal cases in all of 2014. The number has gradually been on the rise since 2010.
According to Campbell, the rabies cycle would be "very hard to eradicate" unless the entire raccoon population were eliminated or heavily vaccinated.
Rabies has caused just two human deaths in New Jersey since the early 1960s, Campbell said. Thousands of people in the state are exposed to rabies each year through an animal bite, but early treatment is "100 percent effective in preventing human rabies cases."
New Jersey residents are advised to stay away from any animal acting aggressively or out of character. A local animal control officer should be called to the scene to assess the situation and capture the animal if necessary.
Campbell said people can protect their pets through vaccination and making sure they don't roam from the property.