Emergence of Contagious and Deadly Dog Virus Raises Concerns at Ft. De Soto Park as Three Raccoons Test Positive for Distemper


Florida / St. Petersburg – Officials from Pinellas County have issued a pet owner alert following the detection of the highly contagious canine distemper virus at the Ft. De Soto Park Campground.

The virus was confirmed to be present on the county’s online camping reservation system when the advisory went into effect on Wednesday, January 10.

According to Pinellas County officials, the outbreak is caused by raccoons at the campground that are diseased.

Chief ranger Dave Harshbarger said three raccoons were apparently having seizure-like symptoms and were turned away from distemper testing this week. The identical symptoms were observed in another raccoon that was discovered.

Raccoons at the park have previously tested positive for distemper. Animal services discovered illnesses in several raccoons at the park in January 2019, which resulted in a distemper outbreak at Fort De Soto.

“Distemper is a highly contagious disease spreading quickly among dogs,” the advisory stated. “It has the potential to kill dogs that have not been vaccinated or are susceptible for reasons of age or compromised immune system.”

At Fort DeSoto, a potentially fatal dog virus has been discovered.

Any dog exhibiting distemper symptoms should consult a veterinarian straight immediately.

The gastrointestinal system can be attacked by this virus, according to veterinarian Dr. Jenese Williams of Gibsonton. “So vomiting, diarrhea, if we notice any of that going on, which is very common, but specifically if your pet is not vaccinated… and we’re starting to see symptoms and changes like that, we want to be on high alert.”

According to Williams, the virus targets the respiratory system as well. Coughing, nasal discharge, and eye discharge are possible symptoms. The nervous system may also be impacted by distemper.

“So in very severe cases you can get neurologic symptoms like ataxia, which is basically if you see a pet walking like it’s drunk and wobbly, those are signs of neurologic dysfunction,” reads a sign outside a closed dog park.

While people and cats are not impacted by the virus, pet owners are advised to “not leave food or water for your pet unattended outside,” according to the campground notice.

On the beach at Fort DeSoto, a dog runs.

Visitors to Ft. De Soto Park Campground are being reminded by officials not to associate with park wildlife and to phone 727-582-2100 or the campground office if they spot an animal acting abnormally or looking sick.

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