TRENTON — An adopted stray kitten that tested positive for rabies may have been exposed to over a dozen people in three counties between Nov. 13 and Nov. 23.

The kitten was adopted as a stray in Edison on Nov. 12 and did not display any signs of rabies for another nine days, according to the state Department of Health, which issued the warning. Its owner, whose identify was not disclosed, brought it to several places where it scratched and licked people, which exposed those unsuspecting people to the disease that can be fatal to humans.

"Human rabies cases are rare in the United States and treatment is 100 percent effective if given promptly," State Public Health Veterinarian Dr. Colin Campbell said in a statement.

There have been an average of 20 cats infected with rabies every year for the past five years, according to Campbell. He said cats are the most common carriers of domestic animal cases of rabies because many cats roam free and are not vaccinated.

The owner brought the kitten to classes at the Branford Hall Career Institute in Hamilton (Mercer) between Nov. 13 and 16, where two classmates were exposed. The kitten was brought to a Monmouth County veterinary facility for a wellness check on Nov. 16 and was still not showing signs of rabies, according the the health department.

The next day, Nov. 17, the kitten was brought to a Thanksgiving party in Old Bridge, where it interacted with a dozen people

The kitten began to show symptoms of rabies on Nov. 23 when it stopped eating and became fatigued. Its hind legs also became weak the next day. The owner returned to the Monmouth County vet on Nov. 25 where the diagnosis was made and the kitten euthanized the next day.

The owner began treatment for exposure to rabies on Nov. 28. Campbell said treatment includes a dose of rabies immune globulin and a series of rabies vaccinations over 14 days.

Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a virus found in the saliva of a rabid animal and is transmitted by a bite, scratch or contact with infected saliva via exposure to an open cut or wound. Initial symptoms can include fever, pain at the site of the bite, lethargy, lack of appetite, nausea and vomiting. Symptoms can develop anywhere from 12 days to six months after a bite.

Left untreated, rabies attacks the nervous system and causes death.

The Department of Health suggested these steps to protect against rabies:

  • Avoid unknown wildlife and animals
  • Keep pets on leashes. Do not allow them to roam and possibly encounter rabid wildlife
  • Never feed or touch wild or stray animals, especially stray cats, bats, skunks, raccoons, foxes, or groundhogs
  • Teach children that they should tell an adult if they were bitten or scratched by an animal
  • Call a doctor and the local health department if bitten or exposed to saliva or blood of a wild or stray animal
  • Contact a veterinarian if your pet was exposed to a bat, raccoon, skunk, or other wild animal.
  • If you or your pet is bitten by an animal, wash the wound immediately with soap and water and seek medical attention.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ.

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