Virus ramps up among park’s racoons: More critters found with distemper in Prospect

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

A virus spreading among local raccoons has infected twice as many critters in Prospect Park than previously reported, with up to 15 masked bandits now potentially serving as hosts for distemper — an illness fatal to dogs and other common pets — according to officials.

Testing confirmed five cases of distemper in raccoons from Brooklyn’s Backyard, up from a reported two earlier this month, according to Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Crystal Howard, who said the agency sent 16 animals to be tested, 10 of which it is still awaiting results for, and one of which did not have the virus.

In early stages, distemper produces cold symptoms in animals, including watery eyes, a runny nose, vomiting, and diarrhea. Later stages yield symptoms including a loss of brain function, which may cause infected raccoons to exhibit zombie-like behavior such as wandering aimlessly and becoming aggressive.

Humans are not susceptible to the virus, but man’s best friend is, and it can kill Fido if left untreated.

Fortunately, an all-in-one vaccine preventing distemper, along with parovirus, adenovirus, and other illnesses, is available to pooches.

But it’s up to their owners — a contingent of whom have shown resistance to such inoculations for fear of canine autism, according to some local vets — to ensure their fuzzy friends are up to date on the shot, which, unlike the rabies vaccine, is not required to get a pet license in New York State.

The growing outbreak of distemper in Kings County follows a small plague that spread across the East River, where officials tested some 176 animals from Manhattan’s Central Park for the virus over the summer, according to Parks Department spokeswoman Maeri Ferguson, who noted the last positive case in that borough was discovered on Sept. 19.

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

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