Rabies in Washington Township is endemic, and residents need to be aware and prepared.
That’s according to the town’s Department of Health Supervisor Chris Cooke-Gibbs, who recently dealt with a rabid skunk that attacked a domesticated dog on Spring Lane.
The incident, which led to the skunk’s death and the dog’s treatment and quarantine, is not an isolated one, Cooke-Gibbs said, and residents – not just pet owners – need to understand the severity of the situation.
“There’s been a decline in the number of dogs and cats getting their licenses each year,” Cooke-Gibbs said, “and as a result, there have been less animals receiving their vaccinations.”
While the vaccination is not full proof, it could mean the difference between a pet’s life and its death if infected by the wild disease.
In the most recent case of the infected skunk, an altercation between the two animals led to the rabid one’s death. It then had its brain tested at the state department of health, which showed a positive result, Cooke-Gibbs said.
The dog, which also became infected, was given rabies booster shots after being tested, and will be quarantined for a while longer, Cooke-Gibbs said.
‘Keep Your Head Straight’
While rabies infections in Washington Township are not frequent, they aren’t infrequent, either, Cooke-Gibbs said.
“Before licensing of pets became required, rabies was a huge problem,” she said. “Now we have a handful of incidents each year.”
But that’s only what’s actually reported, she said.
Many residents don’t know how to handle the situation if their beloved pet is infected, however, and Cooke-Gibbs said humans need to take caution and “keep your head straight.”
Raccoons, skunks and groundhogs are three of the “highly suspect” animals to be cautious of, Cooke-Gibbs said, and if a dog or cat is infected by a wild animal, it needs to be immediately quarantined.
“If the (pet) is not profusely wounded, put it in the garage until (the health department) can arrive,” she said. “If the animal is need of immediate treatment, the owner should at least put on gloves and protect themselves.”
Rabies can be transmitted through a bite, but can also infect a victim by entering open cuts or salivary glands on the body, known as non-bite exposure. If that happens, Cooke-Gibbs said, a person will need to visit the emergency room four times and be treated repeatedly for the infection.
“A lot of people become hysterical when their pet has gotten into a fight or been attacked, and aren’t thinking about the saliva they may have touched or if they touched their own mouth or eyes,” she said. “The most important things pet owners can do is keep their animals licensed, vaccinated and keep their heads straight if they ever have to deal with the situation.”
The Washington Township Health Department can be reached at 908-876-3315.