Wildlife officials explain why raccoons in Ohio are acting like 'zombies'

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio - Zombies have been seen sauntering through a northeastern Ohio town. "Zombie" raccoons, that is.

Youngstown residents are speaking out about them after police received more than a dozen calls in the past few weeks regarding their strange behavior.

One resident tells WKBN he was outside with his dogs last week when one such "zombie" followed him to his door. The raccoon "would stand up on his hind legs," show its teeth, then "fall over backward and go into almost a comatose condition," the man says.

"He'd come out of it, walk around, and then he'd do the same thing again." Though rabies can cause similar, uncharacteristic behavior, experts suspect the raccoons are suffering from distemper, a viral disease that affects canines and other animals such as foxes and skunks, per Live Science.

Ohio's Department of Natural Resources has been euthanizing raccoons believed to be infected with the disease, which causes convulsions and paralysis, erases a raccoon's fear of humans, and often sees the nocturnal animals venture out in daylight.

A rep says distemper "can be devastating to the population" but less susceptible raccoons will help the population balloon again. The problem isn't isolated to Youngstown, though: Autopsies performed this year on raccoons in Cook County, Ill., showed 43% had distemper, NBC Chicago reports. This follows the highest-ever rate of 45% in 2016.

"It's very serious for the raccoon and it's very serious for the companion animal population," says a rep for Cook County Animal and Rabies Control. Live Science notes dogs can get a distemper vaccine.

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