‘Zombie’ Virus Feared As Harlem And Sites For Raccoons Die

Patch reports that more than two-dozen raccoons have been found dead in Central Park and Harlem in the past two months, stoking fears of a deadly viral outbreak that can make animals display zombie-like behavior, city officials said.

Twenty-six raccoons have turned up dead in the short span of time in Manhattan’s largest park, a spokeswoman for the city Parks Department said. Two of the dead animals tested positive for canine distemper virus, which can cause infected animals to become aggressive and disoriented, the spokeswoman said.

“They looked like they were circulating, wandering, having spasms,” Dr. Sally Slavinski, of the city Health Department, told the New York Post, which first reported the outbreak. “Some of the raccoons had some sort of nasal discharge.”

The first two raccoons were found dead on June 24 at East 72nd Street and on June 28 at East 102nd street, a Parks Department spokeswoman said. The majority of the dead animals were found in the northern section of the park between East 93rd Street and East 110th Street near Lenox Avenue, the spokeswoman said. Raccoons were also found near Central Park landmarks such as Delacort Theater — where Shakespeare in The Park is currently running — the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir and Grand Army Plaza.

The first two raccoons were found dead on June 24 at East 72nd Street and on June 28 at East 102nd street, a Parks Department spokeswoman said. The majority of the dead animals were found in the northern section of the park between East 93rd Street and East 110th Street near Lenox Avenue, the spokeswoman said. Raccoons were also found near Central Park landmarks such as Delacort Theater — where Shakespeare in The Park is currently running — the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir and Grand Army Plaza.

Thirteen of the raccoons have been tested and none have returned positive for rabies, a Parks Department spokeswoman said. Officials are still waiting back on test results for nine more raccoons and three of the animals could not be tested due to “advanced” decay, according to officials. The most recent raccoon, found Saturday, has been sent out for testing, parks officials said.

“We ask the public to call 311 to request NYC Parks Rangers if they see a sick or injured raccoon,” a Parks Department spokeswoman said in a statement.

The city Health Department is monitoring the outbreak and believes there’s no risk to human health, a department spokeswoman said in a statement.

Canine distemper virus has no effect on humans but can be spread to dogs, according to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation. Most pets receive vaccinations for the virus, but pets whose immunizations are not up to date are at risk of infection.

“Canine distemper outbreaks in local raccoon populations can signal increased risk for pet dogs in the area,” reads the American Veterinary Medical Foundation’s website.

Other wildlife in the park such as skunks are also vulnerable to the virus, parks officials told the Post. The disease spreads through contact with infected saliva, urine and feces, according to the report.

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