Three feral animals infected with rabies in Lacey Township raise seasonal red flags for home and pet owners, parents and children in Ocean County.

Raccoon, by Sam Greeenwood, Getty Images

County health officials say two raccoons and one skunk rounded up in the Riviera and Sunrise Beach sections tested positive. Five rabies cases have now been reported in Ocean County during 2013, according to Jennifer Crawford, Supervisor of Communicable Diseases at the Ocean County Health Department in Toms River. No human contagion has been reported.

Crawford says that rabies is a year-round concern in the county, surfacing mostly in raccoons and skunks, "...but has also been identifed in foxes, groundhogs and bats," she explains. "In addition, the OCHD has received in the past few years, reports of rabid feral cats in different areas of Ocean County."

Rabid animals can be recognized by strange or aggressive behavior, or out-of-pattern activity, such as nocturnal creatures ambling about in daylight hours. The animals will often display a drunken or disoriented appearance.

If you spot a homeless or undomesticated animal exhibiting this type of behavior, say health officials, don't approach it. Instead, call your nearest animal control officers. There is a complete list of them for Ocean County at the Health Department web page, listed under "Resources."

Infected animals pose a threat to pets that customarily spend time in open yards. They can transmit the disease to an unsuspecting human. Health officials urge pet owners to be sure that all rabies vaccinations are up to date.

The department dispenses free rabies vaccinations, by appointment, each Wednesday at Ocean County Animal Facilities in Jackson and Manahawkin. Lacey Township is one of several municipalities that also conducts free rabies vaccination clinics. Schedules are posted on the Health Department web page's "Events" calendar.

OCHD Public Information Officer Leslie Terjesen adds more preventive pointers.

  • Animal-proof your home. Keep trash and garbage in containers with secure lids instead of simply inside plastic bags.
  • Place screens over vents to attics and other openings that appear inviting to bats.

If you are bitten by a rabid animal, take several immediate precautions.

  • Wash the wound immediately with soap and water.
  • Contact your doctor, health care provider, or nearest hospital to determine wound care and establish whether more treatments are needed.
  • Gather as many details about the animal as you can. If it has an owner, take down the owner's name and address. If it's feral, try to remember where you found it and whether it bears any distinguishing markings that can help animal control officers track it.
  • Report the incident to the Ocean County Health Department in Toms River, 732-341-9700, Extension 7515.