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Old Oct 3, 2007, 6:50 PM   #1
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As often happens when excellent photographs appear of engaging creatures we all love, other photographers are tempted to get similar pictures. This is all well and good in the wild, but not at home. It is a little known fact among the public, but attracting raccoons to ones yard by feeding them can have deadly results, especially for small children and pets, such as the family dogs. Raccoons, through no fault of their own, are hosts to the Raccoon Roundworm (Baylisascaris procyonis), which can cause a fatal eosinophilic meningitis, a disesase of the central nervous system, in infected intermediate hosts (usually rodents - which transmit it to the raccoons when sick ones are caught and eaten by them - but also humans, dogs, and even chickens) that encounterthe eggs from the feces of infected raccoons. The eggs hatch in the intestine and the larvae canmigrate into the central nervous system (including the brain and eyes), and can cause blindness, coma, and even death - this is a devastating disease for which there is no medical treatmentto counterthis stage in the life cycle. Google "Baylisascaris" and pay particular attention to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) entries.

Why is attracting Raccoons now considered so dangerous, when people have kept them for pets for so long, or fed them in their yards for years? As urban areas have grown, Raccoons have been attracted to them in increasing numbers. Human infections have been known (diagnosed as such) only since the 19B0s. They are believed to have occurrec earlier, but were unrecognized as such. Baylisascaris has been found (since people have been looking for it) in Raccoons throughout their range in North America, although the worm was only first found in the 1930's (few peopleever studied Racccoon parasites - or other parasites of wild animals, for that matter). In the American Midwest, over half of Raccoons now have been found to carry the worm (which lives in the intestine as an adult and does little harm to the Raccoons). Raccoons oftenestablish what are called "communal latrines," repeatedly returning to deposit their feces on roofs or directly on soil which becomes contaminated; the eggswill wash off these roofs and pass into the soil, where they can live for years. Children who play in the dirt and put their hands into their mouths can swallow the eggs, and this is believed to have been the source of some - if not most - of the infections of children. Where such latrines have been found, it has been necessary to remove all soil to the depth ofseveral inches, since there is no way to kill the eggs, which are resistant to all treatments, short of a blowtorch (literally). This has fortunately been a rare disease - as much as we all like and admire these engaging creatures, we can do our part to keep it that way by not feeding Raccoons.
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Old Oct 3, 2007, 9:10 PM   #2
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Interesting parasitology. You remind me of another thing: the possibility that thisparasitic diasease may also be passed on to us throughdogs and catswho become soiled with the racoon's andsubsequently come into close contact with their hosts. I don't know if thisis probable. A look up from the parasitology textbook can tell.

Another scenario, possibility of which I am not sure of,is:the domestic pets become the final host of the parasite andpass outeggs as they move around inthe human habitat.

A second thought comes to mind and it is about constantly checking our pets for parasitc diseases to ensure thatwe willnot be the victims ofother parasitic diseasestransmissible to the human being.
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Old Oct 3, 2007, 10:06 PM   #3
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ok now you got me worried penolta. last summer i noticed that there were patches of grass in my backyard that were getting clawed up to reveal the soil underneath. this would occur at night and i would find new patches in the morning. the patches seem to spread out from underneath a ficus tree. i presumed that there was either an oppossum or a raccoon that was climbing down from that tree at night to dig for worms. anyways, a few months later, i actually spotted a raccoon in my backyard at night. it came right up to my dinning room door that opens into the backyard. in that corner i later found this accumulated mound of feces. i had no idea what type of feces it was because it wasn't like a cat's or a dog's. we do not have any free roaming pets in our house and there are very few free roaming cats in our neighborhood. the amount of feces was quite alot. definitely not just a single dump. now that you posted this entry, it all makes sense. that mound of poo in the corner of my yard must have been from the raccoons latrine. grrrrrr! so now i gotta dig up the soil and throw it away? i worry because we have gravel in that part of the yard. my 20 month old daughter sometimes plays in that general area and picks up the gravel. once i caught her putting a rock into her mouth! i just looked at the cdc website. there have been documented cases here in california. ugh....
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Old Oct 3, 2007, 10:09 PM   #4
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WK - Your first scenario would not happen, because in this part of the world we do not eat dogs or cats, which would be the only way a human could ingest the larvae to have them mature as adults in the intestine.

I do not know if your second one is possible either, because the parasite may be specific to its final host, the Raccoon. If it did, it could be eliminated with antihelminthic drugs.Larval parasites on the other hand often infect organisms other than their usual intermediate hosts, but these are often dead ends in the cycle for them.

As to your third point, veterinarians in this country routinely check pets for parasites when they see them for annual examinations - in this case,any adult worms would be detected, but not the larvae.
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Old Oct 3, 2007, 10:14 PM   #5
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Hung - yes there has been at least one case in Southern California - a child on the Palos Verde peninsula, I think it was. There is a CDC article on the web that lists the known cases.

There are specific recommendations for safe removal of the soil- do not attempt it yourself. Try contacting the Orange County Department of Health and see if they can test the soil for contamination (you may have to convince the person you talk to to find someone who knows about the situation. I don't know what the percentage of infected Raccoons in Southern California, but there is also an article on the web about the incidence in Northern California. In the meantime play it safe and keep your child away from the spot.
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Old Oct 4, 2007, 1:18 AM   #6
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thanks for the info penolta. the latrine actually was already cleaned up over six months ago by my father in law. he was helping me landscape and he scooped it all up and got rid of the bush that the raccoons where pooing on. the racoons has never come back. i still need to sterilize the gravel and soil in that area though. i found this article from the santa barbara county animal services about how to clean up the soil.

http://www.sbcphd.org/documents/aler...on_latrine.pdf

i am going to dig up that area and double bag the gravel and soil.
i'm also going to pour boiling water all over that general area.
i gonna wear surgical masks, gloves, and booties.
wish me luck.

- hung
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