A wave of "zombie raccoons" has been sweeping parts of the U.S. with police warning pet owners to keep an eye out on their animals, particularly dogs unvaccinated against canine distemper virus.
Raccoons are a normal part of life for most people in the U.S. While usually seen at night, it's not uncommon to see them throughout the day, rummaging around for food and scattering from one place to another. However, a recent spate of "Zombie-like" raccoons appearing during the day has raised alarm bells.
"Zombie" raccoons unnerving U.S. cities
Raccoons are typically unaggressive to humans unless provoked, particularly when there are babies nearby. Yet throughout various states in north-eastern U.S.A., a number of raccoons have been seen acting in a very abnormal fashion.
Witnesses have described the behaviour as "Zombie-like", similar to that seen in films. The strange behaviour includes a lack of fear of humans, rearing on the hind legs, baring teeth, staggering, and collapsing to the ground, only to regain consciousness and repeat the strange behaviours again.
States and cities so far affected include New York, Ohio and Chicago.
Canine distemper virus suspected
Environmental authorities and police suspect the cause of the "Zombie" behaviour is due to a bout of canine distemper virus moving through large raccoon populations. For unvaccinated dogs and some wild animals, the virus can prove fatal.
Cats can also be affected by the virus, although they are less susceptible than dogs. While similar in name, the virus is not to be confused with the unrelated feline distemper virus. In fact, canine distemper is more closely related to the human measles virus.
Canine distemper is spread when a raccoon comes into contact with bodily fluids or dropping of an infected animal. The virus attacks the brain causing both mental and motor deterioration. This likely explains the raccoons' lack of fear of humans, disorientation, staggering, and collapsing. Other symptoms include mucus and froth around the eyes and mouth, seizures, respiratory diseases, and death.
Thankfully, humans are unaffected by the virus. However, an attack by any raccoon can cause deep lacerations, and potentially bacterial infection due to the spreading of other germs.
Unfortunately for the infected raccoons, there is no treatment for the suffering animal, and those captured are euthanised to both ease their suffering and prevent further transmission of the virus.
Local authority warnings
Police in affected areas are urging all dog owners to vaccinate their dogs against the virus. They advise to keep an eye out for these "Zombie" raccoons and ensure their animals are kept indoors.
If you come across a racoon exhibiting any of the above behaviours, call your local animal control or police department for assistance. Bring your pets indoors and do not approach the animal, nor attempt to capture the animal yourself.
Source: Chicago Sun Times
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