Silent Killer Virus Has Gone Airborne, Veterinarians Say; Owners Advised To Get Their Dogs Vaccinated, Put Them On Leash If Visiting Park

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Officials have put dog owners in Brooklyn on notice after two raccoons contracted what’s commonly known as the “zombie virus.”

Veterinarians say it’s contagious and can be deadly for pets, CBS2’s Marc Liverman reported Monday.

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A simple walk in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park can be deadly for your pet. A silent killer virus has been confirmed, and the virus is airborne.

“That makes me much more nervous. I didn’t know it was airborne. To know that it is airborne and can infect an animal just by being close to it?” dog owner Julie Smith said.

“It’s very scary, because so many parks … so many dogs around here,” dog owner Leticia Gonzalez added.

Raccoon (Photo: Getty File Images)

Unlike some healthy New York City raccoons CBS2 saw this summer, last week the Parks Department found two in Prospect infected with canine distemper virus. Two others were being tested as well. The virus is not a threat to humans. It’s commonly referred to as “zombie” virus because of its symptoms.

Symptoms that veterinarian Dr. Harry Weatherson said can attack an animal’s central nervous system.

“If they’re sort of walking drunkenly … seizures,” said Weatherson, who works at Blue Pearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital. “It spreads around the body within a few days.”

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Both of the infected raccoons were found right around the east side of Prospect Park and the Health Department told CBS2’s Liverman that in areas where you have a large, dense population of raccoons, the virus can spread fast.

Another outbreak was detected over the summer in Central Park, but officials said because of the distance it’s not likely those animals spread it to Brooklyn.

Once the virus has been contracted — even with treatment — an animal’s chance of survival is very low.

“There’s no specific cure for the virus,” Weatherson said.

So what’s the best thing you can do? Make sure your pet is vaccinated. And if you have to walk them in the park, keep them on a leash.

“I do like to run the trails often, but that’s where a lot of them would be,” Smith said. “So I will stick to the roads.”

It can be the difference between life and death for your pet.

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Weatherson told CBS2 most pets get the distemper vaccine as part of their routine shots, but it’s still a good idea to check with your vet to make sure they’re protected.