Dozens of raccoons have died in Central Park, falling victim to what wildlife experts say is a “zombie” outbreak that could spread to the city’s dogs.
In the last month, there have been 26 raccoons found dead in the Manhattan park, the New York Post reported. Officials believe the deaths are part of an outbreak of the canine distemper virus, which causes them to lose their coordination and become unusually tame.
The affected raccoons were seen wandering aimlessly in the park like zombies.
“They looked like they were circulating, wandering, having spasms,” Dr. Sally Slavinski, an assistant director at the city’s health department, told the New York Post. “Some of the raccoons had some sort of nasal discharge.”
Officials had already ruled out the dangerous rabies virus, but there could be risks with the suspected distemper outbreak. While the virus does not spread to humans, it can be transferred to dogs that have not been vaccinated. That has led to some concern among Central Park dog walkers, especially those who say they frequently come into contact with the many raccoons in the park during walks.
The virus is also transferrable to a number of other large mammals in the park, including skunks. It could even spread to the leopards in the Central Park Zoo, the report noted.
As PetMD noted, the deadly virus has no cure and can spread to dogs through their nasal passages, leading to a series of serious symptoms and often resulting in death.
“In the initial stages of Canine Distemper, the major symptoms include high fever (≥103.5 ° F, or 39.7° C), reddened eyes, and a watery discharge from the nose and eyes. An infected dog will become lethargic and tired, and will usually become anorexic. Persistent coughing, vomiting, and diarrhea may also occur. In the later stages of the disease, the virus starts attacking the other systems of the dog’s body, particularly the nervous system. The brain and spinal cord are affected and the dog may start having fits, seizures, paralysis, and attacks of hysteria.”
This is not the first time that Central Park’s raccoons have led to a health scare. In 2016, city officials had to warn visitors to stay away from the animals as they traveled in packs. Many tourists had taken to feeding the animals, but officials warned that they can frequently carry rabies and that it is unsafe to feed them, the New York Times noted.