Dozens of racoons have been found dead from a virus which causes zombie-like behavior before ultimately killing the host. This outbreak of canine distemper virus (CDV), known to infect dogs, foxes, raccoons, and skunks among other animals, was confirmed by at least two of the dozens of raccoon corpses collected by officials.
The disease, which exhibits rabies-like symptoms, causes the infected animal to wander in circles, foam at the mouth, and convulse uncontrollably. These symptoms have led some to believe these animals have turned into “zombies”.
Unlike the undead, however, animals infected by canine distemper are still alive, at least for the time being. The infection almost always ends with death.
This single-stranded RNA virus, canine morbillivirus, belongs to the same family of viruses that cause measles, mumps, and bronchitis in humans. This has allowed scientists to develop a vaccine, though it’s not always 100% effective. Dogs who have been vaccinated are the most likely to survive, but even if they do they are almost always left with irreversible neurological damage, usually in the form of involuntary tics.
CDV is extremely contagious, often infecting new hosts via airborne transmission through coughing or sneezing or through contact with shared water sources. Though the virus tends to primarily infect the nervous and immune systems, it circulates through the bloodstream and spreads the infection to almost every part of the body causing all kinds of symptoms from involuntary urination to blindness. Because of the attacks on the immune system, secondary infections like pneumonia are also common, further adding to the virus’ lethality.
Thankfully for us, this virus is not known to infect humans (or domesticated cats, phew); however, viruses are known to mutate as they evolve and could eventually make the jump to begin zombifying you and me. As with any preventable infectious disease, vaccination is the best way to slow the spread of this fatal infection.
The raccoons, which were found dead in Central Park, present the risk of potentially infecting the thousands of dogs who use the park every day, or even the millions of dogs who live throughout the city. New York City dog owners should ensure their dogs are immunized and do their best to avoid contact between their furry friends and wild animals like raccoons and skunks.