For the fifth straight year, the number of animal rabies cases in New Jersey could top 300.

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According to the latest update from the state Department of Health in September, 213 cases of the deadly disease have been confirmed among bats and land animals. That's compared to 113 at the end of June.

Of the 128 potential rabies samples sent to the state health department for testing in Middlesex County, 22 have come back positive. That's more than double the number of confirmed cases this time last year.

Lester Jones, Health Services director for Middlesex County, said the uptick is most likely due to greater awareness in the community of rabies and its risks. When a rabid animal is confirmed, he said, advisories are posted in the area and residents know what to look for.

"Also, we constantly put out information into the public to have your animals vaccinated according to the schedule," Jones said, noting the county has had clinics scheduled in each municipality during 2016.

Of the 213 cases reported by the state, raccoons accounted for 108, followed by 52 bats and 20 skunks. Eighteen cats and one dog made the list as well.

Since 2012, the state has tallied at least 300 cases annually, including 348 in 2014. Cats have accounted for 90 percent of domestic animal cases since 1989, the state noted.

Rabies, caused by a virus, can be transmitted by bite or through an open wound. Symptoms among animals may start with lethargy, fever and vomiting, but eventually progress to cerebral dysfunction, difficulty breathing and swallowing, excessive salvation, abnormal behavior, aggression and self-mutilation.

Among humans, symptoms include fatigue, seizures, hallucinations and paralysis. Human cases are almost always fatal, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Since 1990, there have been just 55 human rabies cases diagnosed, according to the CDC. But thousands are vaccinated each year as a precaution after animal bites.

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