A viral outbreak in New York that makes raccoons behave like “zombies” has left as many as 176 dead since it began to spread in the summer, according to reports.
At least 176 raccoons have died in Central Park after contracting the fatal canine distemper virus, with three more believed to have been infected at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx, according to the New York Post.
Any raccoon suspected to have caught the virus is euthanized by park officials.
The virus does not affect humans, but can spread among unvaccinated dogs well as other animals such as ferrets, skunks, and coyotes.
Once infected, the animals start behaving strangely. In the raccoons’ case, the animals can appear to be confused before displaying signs of aggression.
An outbreak was confirmed after more than two dozen infected raccoons were found to have died in New York’s Central Park in June.
“They looked like they were circulating, wandering, having spasms. Some of the raccoons had some sort of nasal discharge.” Dr. Sally Slavinski, assistant director at the New York Health Department, told the New York Post at the time.
Warnings have been put in place after three raccoons were also confirmed to have been infected with canine distemper virus in Pelham Bay Park.
“Although the virus cannot be transmitted to humans, it may be transmitted to dogs. Keep your pets safe in the park,” the Parks Department said in a statement.
“Please avoid wildlife and make sure your pets have up-to-date distemper and rabies vaccines. We strongly recommend keeping your pet on a leash, especially during dawn and dusk.”
Officials also advise anyone who has been bitten to wash the wound with soap and water immediately, contacting a doctor to see if they need tetanus or rabies shots and call 311 to report the bite.
People are also been advised to keep their dogs on their leashes in Central Park until at least one month after any new cases emerge. The last infected raccoon was found on September 7.
“While the collection of sick raccoons has slowed in Central Park, the outbreak has not yet been deemed ended,” Krause added.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, canine distemper is a “contagious and serious disease” caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems of puppies and dogs.
Its symptoms include a pus-like discharge from their eyes, fever and vomiting, as well as well as muscle twitches, convulsions on the jaw and partial or complete paralysis as the virus attacks the nervous system.