‘Rocky’ raccoons: Local critters test positive for distemper

Branching out: The victorious escapee spent the night in the tree.
Photo by Paul Martinka

A virus that caused dozens of raccoons to exhibit zombie-like symptoms in Central Park spread to Brooklyn’s Backyard, where as many as four of the woodland critters may have been infected with distemper, a disease that’s also lethal to common pets including dogs.

Department of Parks and Recreation officials are warning pup owners to leash their tail-waggers at all times while in Prospect Park, after raccoons found at the Long Meadow and on the eastern side of the park tested positive for the distemper virus on Oct. 3, according to spokeswoman Crystal Howard.

Two other masked bandits that officials suspect may have fallen prey to the deadly illness were collected near the Long Meadow and sent out for testing on Oct. 2 and 4, according to Howard, who said results of those tests are pending.

Early symptoms of distemper in raccoons include runny eyes and nose, along with vomiting and diarrhea, but brain damage that occurs during late stages of the illness can cause the animal to wander about aimlessly and even become aggressive.

Humans are thankfully immune to the illness, but dogs are susceptible, and anyone who fears Fido may be sick with the disease should seek immediate treatment.

The good news is that man’s best friend can get a vaccine to prevent distemper and other diseases including adenovirus and parvovirus, an all-in-one shot recommended by borough vets, some of whom claimed to face resistance to such inoculations from a contingent of local anti-vaxxers who fear they’ll cause canine autism — a condition not recognized by medical professionals.

The Brooklyn outbreak follows a surge of infections that plagued raccoons in Central Park, leading the city to test a whopping 176 animals, with the most recently infected critter being collected on Sept. 19, according to Parks Department spokeswoman Maeri Ferguson.

The Manhattan distemper flare up seems to have abated since then, however, as infection rates took a steep decline in the final weeks of summer, Ferguson said.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.

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