To the editor:
There are strong signs that a distemper epidemic is under way on Pine island. I have been called to rescue five raccoons this week that showed some signs of distemper, and today I found a raccoon that showed signs of an advanced stage of distemper.
We had a distemper epidemic five years ago that killed over half the raccoons on Pine Island and (so I'm told) perhaps all of the raccoons on Sanibel. We also had a very severe distemper epidemic 10 years ago. It appears they run in five-year cycles.
Experts differ as to whether the distemper is feline (which affects cats) or canine (which affects dogs). Raccoons can get either, and labs refuse to test them to find out because the disease is so contagious. Neither affect humans, and both dogs and cats are well protected if they have had the distemper vaccine. The disease is so contagious it can be tracked into the house on your shoes, so your pets need the vaccine even if they do not go outside.
The signs of distemper are weigh loss, watery eyes, disorientation and eventual coma and death. As far as I know, there is little that can be done to help the animal once they have the disease.
Please bury raccoons you think died from the disease, then disinfect your shovel with chlorine. You can also use anti-bacterial spray (such as Lysol) to spray your shoes or areas you think have been contaminated.
If we have a full-blown epidemic, it will probably run its course over the next 3 to 5 or so months.
St James City