ORANGE PARK — Town officials warn residents to stay away from any raccoons they encounter during the daylight hours because those animals likely are sick with distemper.
Eight of the diseased raccoons — a mix of young and adult animals — were discovered last week in neighborhoods throughout the town. No people or pets have been reported bitten, Edward Kaczkowski, town code enforcement/animal control officer, said Tuesday.
Kaczkowski said six of the raccoons — displaying symptoms of distemper as verified by a veterinarian — were destroyed. The other two, which had the same symptoms, eluded capture by fleeing into a wooded swampy area near the yard of a homeowner who’d reported them to police, he said.
Some residents, he said, apparently have tried to help the wild animals. Although well-meaning, that is not safe, Kaczkowski said.
“Do not approach these animals, poke them or feed them,” Kaczkowski said.
Distemper is a viral disease that affects dogs, and some species of wildlife including raccoons, wolves, foxes and skunks. Distemper is not contagious to humans. But pets can contract it through bites or the feces of an infected animal.
Raccoons with distemper lose their fear of humans, appear blind and confused and may wander aimlessly and might become aggressive if cornered. There often will be a mucus discharge around the eyes and nose. The raccoon also might have seizures or chewing fits, and be coughing, vomiting or experience diarrhea, according to veterinarians.
Town officials are urging residents encountering a raccoon acting strangely or sickly to report it to Orange Park police at (904) 264-5555, or call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is responsible for wildlife.
Paul W. Nichols came home last Friday morning to find one of the sick raccoons standing on its hind legs, grimacing with teeth bared in pain, in the middle of the street of the cul-de-sac on Fatio Lane. Raccoons are common in the neighborhood, but normally only come out at night and flee when they see people. This one stayed put, frozen like a statue, stared at Nichols and then collapsed in convulsions, he said Tuesday.
“This poor guy was definitely in pain. Definitely on his way out. It was really sad,” Nichols said of the raccoon, which was a young male weighing about 10 to 15 pounds. “He put the top of his head on top of the asphalt and was not moving, to the point where you’d almost think it was dead. I walked up closer and saw he was barely breathing and I backed off.”
Nichols called Orange Park police and animal control for help. As he waited for them to arrive, the raccoon’s condition worsened.
“He didn’t try to come after me. Not one little thing was aggressive toward me,” said Nichols, noting he got within 10 feet of the raccoon at one point.
Kaczkowski humanely put down the raccoon when he arrived.
Alan Altman, director of Clay County Environmental Services, said a sickly, barely moving raccoon was euthanized after being captured about a week and a half ago in an unincorporated neighborhood along Breezy Point Road in Keystone Heights, in the southern end of the county.
“It was lethargic, didn’t move much and was just staying in one area,” Altman said of the young raccoon found in the daytime. The animal didn’t appear to be rabid. But it wasn’t tested for that disease. The county hasn’t received any other reports of sick raccoons. Nor had it gotten any reports of people or pets being bitten by raccoons, he said.
Officials with the Florida Department of Health in Clay County said the public health agency hasn’t received any reports of sick raccoons as of Tuesday.
Kaczkowski said none of the sick Orange Park raccoons have shown signs of being rabid. Unless the animal bites someone or a pet, it isn’t tested for rabies because that is an expensive test requiring the head of the suspected animal, Kaczkowski said.
Orange Park Town Manager Sarah Campbell said several years ago there was an outbreak of distemper among raccoons living in community of 9,000 human residents. Then as now, the sick animals were found in multiple neighborhoods.
So far, the sick animals have been found in neighborhoods including those off Plainfield and Milwaukee avenues, Fatio and Laurel lanes, River Road and U.S. 17, Kaczkowski said.
Distemper is closely linked with the measles virus in humans. As a result of that link, humans can be infected with the canine distemper virus. However, while the virus can successfully replicate in the human system, it produces no illness and no symptoms, according to veterinary medical publications.
Teresa Stepzinski: (904) 359-4075