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Rabies Control Activities

What is rabies?

Rabies (ray-beez), is a deadly disease caused by a virus. The virus is found in the saliva of a rabid animal and is transmitted by a bite, or possibly by saliva contamination of an open cut or the eyes. Left untreated, rabies attacks the nervous system and causes death.

What animals get rabies?

Only mammals, including people, can get rabies. Rabies occurs most often in wildlife, particularly raccoons, bats, skunks, groundhogs, and foxes. These animals represent 95% of the cases in the United States. In New Jersey (NJ), cats account for the vast majority of domestic animal rabies cases. Farm animals, dogs, and other domestic pets can also become infected so take measures to keep wild animals from entering houses, barns and garages. Small rodents such as rats, mice, chipmunks, and squirrels are rarely infected. (NOTE—It is illegal in NJ to keep wildlife as pets).

What we do

We investigate animal bites, the majority of which are are dog-to-human, a smaller amount of cat-to-human, and the remainder animal-to-animal bites. Our investigation includes contact follow-up and animal quarantine. Our nursing staff assures compliance with the post-exposure rabies protocols for individuals who had contact with rabid animals, as well as other at risk individuals.

While the number of people exposed to rabies through animal bites remains low, a woman died from rabies in New Jersey in 2011. The significance of following up to an animal 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 county-wide 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 through a dog or cat bite or scratch.

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.