A newly adopted stray kitten may have exposed up to a dozen people to rabies in Mercer, Middlesex and Monmouth counties over the past two weeks, State Public Health Veterinarian Colin Campbell announced Thursday.
The owner adopted the kitten in Edison Nov. 12 and grew attached so quickly, the feline would accompany its new master to errands throughout central New Jersey over the next 11 days.
Health officials believe two students at the Branford Hall Career Institute in Hamilton may have been exposed to the kitten Nov. 13-16, Campbell's statement said.
The owner also took the kitten to work Nov. 13-14 at an unnamed Middlesex County hospital. The state Health Department declined to identify the hospital because the cat was kept inside a carrier.
"We did not want to cause undue alarm," department spokeswoman Nicole Kirgan said.
The owner transported the kitten for a wellness check at Canfield Pet Hospital in Manalapan on Nov. 16.
The following day, the kitten played among a dozen people at at Thanksgiving party in Old Bridge.
There were no signs the kitten was infected with the potentially deadly virus until Nov. 23, when it stopped eating and became fatigued. Paralysis in the back limbs set in the next day.
The kitten was brought to Garden State Veterinary Specialists in Tinton Falls on Nov. 25 and was euthanized on Nov. 26, Kirgan said.
Any people or animals who may have been in contact with this kitten between Nov. 13 and Nov. 23 should contact their local health department, or consult a medical or veterinary health care provider, Campbell said.
Symptoms can develop anywhere from 12 days to six months after a bite, scratch brother exposure.
"Human rabies cases are rare in the United States and treatment is 100 percent effective if given promptly," Campbell said in a statement. "Treatment is a dose of rabies immune globulin and a series of rabies vaccinations over 14 days. People exposed to the rabies virus should be treated promptly to prevent infection. If untreated, rabies infections can be fatal."
There have been 16 cats with rabies in New Jersey from January through September, according to the health department.
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