St. Paul, MN (KROC-AM News) - Dog owners are being warned that reports of raccoons infected by the virus that causes canine distemper are on the rise in Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has confirmed cases in Olmsted County. A statement issued by the agency says distemper cases have also been confirmed in Yellow Medicine County in southwestern Minnesota, and there have been reports of sick raccoons in Dodge, Winona and Kandiyohi Counties.

The virus can be spread in the air or by direct contact with bodily fluids. Distemper affects the animal’s central nervous system, causing them to behave abnormally and exhibits traits that are similar to rabies. That includes losing their fear of humans, appearing overly friendly, along with stumbling and shaking. The infection can also cause sneezing, coughing and discharge from eyes and nose.

“Canine distemper virus does not affect humans,” said Dr. Joni Scheftel, state public health veterinarian at MDH. “However, distemper in animals can look like rabies, so it is important to stay away from sick wildlife.”

State officials are recommending pet owners ensure their dogs are properly vaccinated and kept away from sick or dead wildlife. If disposal is necessary, the animal to be buried where it was found, or picked up with a plastic garbage bag using gloves and placed in the garbage

The DNR statement notes several other states, Tennessee, Virginia and Texas, have also reported increases in the number canine distemper in raccoons and foxes this year.