Dozens of raccoons die from viral 'zombie' outbreak in New York's Central Park

More than two dozen Central Park raccoons have died in an ongoing viral outbreak that causes “zombie” behavior in the critters, authorities determined.

Of 26 raccoons found dead inside the park since June 24, two tested positive for the canine distemper virus, which doesn’t affect humans but can spread to unvaccinated dogs, officials with the city Health and Parks departments revealed on Saturday. The other 24 are believed to be infected by distemper because their deaths were clustered in such a short time and area.

The latest raccoon corpse was found at East 106th Street and East Drive on Saturday morning.

Parks staff also have witnessed distemper symptoms in living raccoons. “They looked like they were circulating, wandering, having spasms,” said Dr. Sally Slavinski, an assistant director at the Health Department. “Some of the raccoons had some sort of nasal discharge.”

Raccoons with distemper act strange — appearing tame or confused before losing their coordination, becoming unconscious and sometimes dying. They can also get aggressive.

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None of the raccoons have tested positive for rabies so far. Once authorities ruled out that deadly virus, they sent samples from two dead raccoons to a state lab. The city found out Friday that they were dealing with distemper.

Masha, a female raccoon, yawns in her wooden refuge inside an open-air cage where she hibernates at the Royev Ruchey zoo in Krasnoyarsk, November 20, 2013. Many animals in the zoo are having difficulties hibernating due to unusually warm temperatures, employees of the zoo said.  REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin (RUSSIA - Tags: ANIMALS ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY) - GM1E9BK1NQK01

Raccoons with distemper can also get aggressive, according to health officials.  (Reuters)

While officials stressed humans can’t contract the disease, dog owners in Central Park were alarmed Saturday when told of the outbreak.

“Now I’m freaked out. Holy moly!” said Upper East Sider Bob Cucurullo, 40, with his beagle terrier Charlie. “He sees a raccoon once a week, and he goes nuts after it. Now I’ll have to be careful where I let him go.”

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