There are various diseases that are carried by wild animals that can cause harm to humans or their four-legged companions. We will be highlighting some of the most serious, common, or notorious diseases that fall into this category in a series of blog posts. The focus of today’s blog post is raccoon roundworm, known scientifically as Baylisascaris procyonis.
Raccoon roundworm, as suggested by the name, is an infection that predominantly affects raccoons. This infection is due to a parasite that lives in the intestines of infected raccoons. There are a number of different version of this parasite, like Baylisascaris columnaris, which is known to inhabit skunks, and these parasites can infect other animals when exposed, including humans. The version of this parasitic worm that has the most worry for humans is the one that lives in raccoons, simply due to the increased likelihood of exposure. This is in part caused by the urbanization of more rural areas and the push for an increase in green spaces in cities, meaning that so often raccoons come to inhabit spaces that are in close proximity to humans.
It is expected that 70-90% of raccoons have this parasite here in North America. The infection continues to spread due to the style of transmission. Because the parasites live in the intestines of raccoons when these worms reproduce their eggs are excreted with the raccoon’s feces. Around 2-3 weeks after excretion, these eggs become infections, meaning that, while they are not yet full parasites, they are capable of infecting new hosts. If another raccoon, or another animal, ingest the infected soil, the parasite spreads.
When an infectious egg is consumed by another raccoon, the worm will navigate to the raccoon’s intestines, and the life cycle will continue. However, when ingested by another creature, such as a human, the results are very different. These parasites cannot navigate to the intestine and reproduce in animals like squirrels, birds, or humans. Instead, they will migrate into the main body of the animal, most often into vital tissue, including the organs, eyes, and brain. It is believed that these worms do this to help make these animals easier prey for raccoons, as consuming infected tissue can also spread the parasite.
Humans are not often affected by this disease, as most humans don’t put dirt or feces in their mouth knowingly. Children or mentally compromised adults are the most likely to contract it, as they simply do not know any better or may not realize what they are doing. When this disease is contracted by humans, the symptoms present within a month of exposure and are often severe. Lack of attention, loss of muscle control, blindness, coma are common, with death being the likely result as there is no known cure. In addition, even when the disease is stopped, the neurological or ocular damage cannot be reversed.
According to the CDC, there have been fewer than 30 documented cases of this disease in the United States. However, the disease may be more prevalent and simply misdiagnosed. Thankfully, there has never been a recorded occurrence of this disease here in Wisconsin, but that does not mean the risk is not still there. That is one of many reasons why it is important to call a wildlife control professional if you have a raccoon that has taken up residence in your attic or underneath your deck and to have those areas sanitized after the animal’s removal, especially if you have children or mentally disabled adults that live in the area. Our Wildlife Control Technicians are skilled not only in the removal of animals but also in the cleanup and sanitization of areas in which animals previously inhabited. Give us a call today!