A new viral “zombie” outbreak has left dozens of raccoons in New York’s Central Park dead after the fuzzy critters contracted the infection. The virus caused the raccoons to be frenzied and exhibit “zombie-like” behavior before their death.
According to the New York Post, officials from the city’s Health and Parks Departments revealed on Saturday that at least 26 raccoons have died since the end of June. Two of the dead raccoons had tested positive for the distemper virus. The other 24 animals are also believed to have been infected with the distemper virus due to the close proximity of their deaths within such a brief time frame.
The most recent raccoon corpse was discovered on Saturday morning at East 106th Street and East Drive in New York. Other living raccoons have been spotted exhibiting symptoms of the disease as well. “They [the raccoons] looked like they were circulating, wandering, having spasms,” said Dr. Sally Slavinski, an assistant director at the Health Department, according to the New York Post. “Some of the raccoons had some sort of nasal discharge.”
Canine distemper (which affects domestic dogs, wolves, foxes, and raccoons among others) belongs to the Morbillivirus class of viruses. It is also a relative of the measles virus, which affects humans, the Rinderpest virus that affects cattle, and the Phocine virus that causes seal distemper. All of these viral strains are members of the Paramyxoviridae family.
Although the raccoon distemper virus cannot be transmitted to humans, it can be contagious to dogs that have not been vaccinated, according to Newsweek. Prepare for the uptick in articles demanding you line the pockets of Merck, the infamous vaccine manufacturer, by getting your dogs vaccinated for canine distemper.
In dogs, the “major symptoms include high fever, reddened eyes, and a watery discharge from the nose and eyes.” As the virus persists, it can lead to anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, paralysis, and fits of hysteria. If the animal’s immune system is weak, death can result within two to five weeks.
“Now I’m freaked out. Holy moly!” Upper East Side resident Bob Cucurullo, told the New York Post as he walked his beagle terrier, Charlie. “He [Charlie] sees a raccoon once a week, and he goes nuts after it. Now I’ll have to be careful where I let him go.” Experts say that raccoons may initially appear tame before acting aggressive if infected with the distemper virus.
A representative for the parks department warned in an email to the paper that people should never feed “raccoons or any wildlife” they might encounter. “Animals are best observed from a distance – it keeps both them and you safe,” they wrote.