Prevention through vaccination

S3366 (Senator Stack) and identical bill A3684 (Assemblywomen Chaparro and McKnight) recently introduced bills that would expand the requirements of notification to animal owners before their animals were tested for rabies virus.  Such measures could unreasonably delay testing that is required to ensure that other animals and humans were not exposed to rabies virus, a nearly 100% fatal virus.

Rabies testing requires extraction and testing of the brain, following euthanasia. The bill would also permit the owners the ability to request the return of the animal’s head following testing.  The bill would expose veterinarians, laboratory technicians and others-including the animal’s owner-to unnecessary and dangerous exposure to infectious, contagious disease if the current prohibition on the ban of the return of remains to veterinarians or animal owners is eliminated.

Rabies is a dangerously pathogenic virus, for which extensive science-based public health laws have been development and implemented. Vaccination is the key to prevent unnecessary euthanasia and testing of those animals for which approved vaccines have been developed and approved. The routine vaccination of these species, including dogs and cats, must be performed by veterinarians in New Jersey for the animal to be considered adequately protected. Proper vaccination would eliminate the need for the potentially dangerous provisions proposed in these bills.

New Jersey State and Local Departments of Health and the New Jersey Department of Agriculture enforce the state and local laws governing the reporting and testing of animals  exposed or infected with rabies virus.

Confirmed or suspect cases must be immediately reported to the relevant local health department.  Rabies, as described by NJDOH,

is an infectious disease caused by the rabies virus. Animals infected with rabies display strange behavior such as aggression, and signs of neurologic impairment including vocalization, circling, and paralysis.  People who are bitten by, or have had contact with saliva from an animal should notify the local health department (LHD) having jurisdiction where the animal is located and seek medical care.

See also N.J.S.A. 26:4-78 (“whenever a dog, cat, or other animal has been known or suspected to have been bitten by an animal known or suspected to be affected by rabies, the owner of the animal or any person with knowledge of the incident shall notify the local health department with jurisdiction where the animal is located.”).

After a report is received, “[t]he Health Officer shall then serve notice on the owner of the animal requiring euthanasia or confinement for up to 6 months and observation for the emergence of clinical signs of rabies.” (N.J.S.A 26:4-83).

Guidance from the State’s Public Health and Environmental Laboratories (PHEL), responsible for rabies testing, prohibits specimens submitted for rabies testing to be returned to veterinarians or animal animals UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.  See Preparation of Specimens for Submission (emphasis in original.)

According to the CDC, “[r]abies is a preventable viral disease of mammals most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal.”

Rabies testing, which requires animal euthanasia required extraction, submission and laboratory testing of at least two locations in the brain, preferably the brain stem and cerebellum.

According to the Center for Food Security & Public Health,

In animals, rabies prevention is based on vaccination and the avoidance of contact with infected animals (e.g., preventing pets from roaming, housing pet rabbits and rodents indoors) . . . Vaccination is recommended for dogs, cats and ferrets, to reduce human exposure as well as to protect the animal. Vaccination is recommended for dogs, cats and ferrets.

USDA has also licensed rabies vaccines for livestock in the United States, including horses, cattle and sheep.