“Dozens of raccoons die from viral ‘zombie’ outbreak” scream the headlines. That sounds pretty terrifying. Grab your emergency supply kit and your dog and head for the hills.
Actually, maybe not. As far as we know, there is no ‘zombie’ outbreak or zombie virus on the loose, but what’s actually going on is a serious issue for animal welfare.
Here’s what we know so far.
According to the New York City Parks Department, during the months of June and July, 26 raccoons have been found dead in Central Park.
That’s more than usual, so the department tested them for viruses and bacteria that might have caused the spike in deaths.
They don’t think it’s rabies, as none of the 13 raccoons tested so far have come up positive for that, although there’s still another 13 animals left to test.
However, two of the raccoons tested so far did test positive for canine distemper, a viral disease that affects a bunch of different species, including raccoons and dogs.
“NYC Parks and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene have recently discovered raccoons infected with distemper in Central Park,” the Parks Department wrote on their website.
Raccoons with the disease “act disoriented and lethargic, and they can become aggressive,” they added.
Sadly, the disease, with symptoms that include watery nose and eyes and diarrhoea, is normally fatal to the animals, and spreads relatively easily in large raccoon populations.
It’s important to note that distemper cannot infect humans, but it can affect your dog if they haven’t been vaccinated against the virus.
So, if you haven’t already, we would strongly recommend heading to the vet to make sure your dog’s vaccinations are up to date.
Distemper outbreaks like this occur every few years or so, and there was a possible outbreak in Ohio in April earlier this year. There was also a spike in 2015 in Toronto.
Distemper is a really sad and deadly animal disease, and unfortunately it’s not uncommon, especially in large populations of animals. But that doesn’t mean there are ‘zombie’ raccoons feasting on other raccoons’ brains – just something causing these poor creatures a lot of suffering.
“Please avoid wildlife and check to see if your pet’s vaccines are up to date,” write the Parks Department. “Call 311 if you see a sick or injured raccoon.”