TRENTON, N.J. — There were no equine cases of rabies in New Jersey in 2018 but several wild and domestic, animals which horses could encounter were diagnosed.

According to the annual report from the New Jersey Department of Health, Division of Epidemiology, Environmental, and Occupational Health, Infectious and Zoonotic Diseases Program there were a total of 199 cases of rabies — 111 in raccoons, 28 skunks, six foxes, 16 cats, two groundhogs and 36 bats.

Although rabies is rare in horses — only 12 cases have been reported in New Jersey since 1989 — the American Association of Equine Practitioners stresses the importance of vaccinating horses to protect against rabies, a deadly but preventable neurological disease.

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The AAEP strongly recommends an annual rabies vaccine as a “core” vaccination for horses. Core vaccinations, as identified by the American Veterinary Medical Association, are vaccines “that protect from diseases that are endemic to a region, those with potential public health significance, required by law, virulent/highly infectious, and/or those posing a risk of severe disease.” 

Rabies is caused by a lyssavirus affecting the neurological system and salivary glands. Exposure to horses most commonly occurs through the bite of another infected (rabid) animal, typically a raccoon, skunk, bat or fox. Clinical signs of rabies are variable and may take up to 12 weeks to appear after the initial infection. Although sometimes no symptoms appear, an infected horse can show behavioral changes, such as becoming drowsy, depressed, fearful or aggressive. Once clinical signs appear, there are no treatment options.

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