What is raccoon roundworm?

Among the parasites that can plague raccoons, one that is well-known by raccoon removal experts is the Raccoon Roundworm, or formally referred to as Baylisascaris procyonis. Raccoon roundworm is an endoparasitic nematode that lives and gestates in the digestive tract of raccoons. Raccoons are the definitive host for the roundworm, but other mammals including but not limited to rabbits, woodchucks, dogs, and even humans can serve as intermediate hosts. Intermediate hosts differ from primary hosts in that the roundworm can survive inside an intermediate, but the larva will never fully mature.

Raccoon roundworm is transmitted to humans usually through fecal matter. When a person comes into contact with the infected raccoon feces, or inhales airborne eggs, the roundworm eggs can enter the person's body and gestate until they hatch into larvae. At this point, the hatched larvae attempt to penetrate into the digestive tract of the infected person, via larva migrans. However, since the linings of humans' organs are much thicker than those of raccoons, this proves impossible for the larvae, so they attempt to reach other organs by traveling through the circulatory system. In humans, larvae usually end up traveling to the brain, resulting in visceral larva migrans. Once in the brain raccoon roundworm can cause blindness and severe damage to brain tissue.

Although human infection by raccoon roundworm is rare, infection by the roundworm is lethal. Only 13 cases have been reported since 1980, but 5 of those reported resulted in death while the 9 remaining victims were left with permanent brain damage. To make matters worse, few tests exist that can test for the larvae in the infected person. Doctors are able to treat the condition only if the infected individual informs them of their exposure to raccoon feces, or if they test organ tissue for the presence of the larvae, which are difficult to detect.

Raccoon roundworm is an especially durable nematode; its eggs can survive without gestating for up to three years outside of the body. This is because raccoons practice latrining, in which multiple raccoons will visit and use the same 'toilet' site, giving the roundworm eggs plenty of insulation needed to survive.

The best method of treatment is forehand prevention. If a raccoon is found nesting within a home, care should be taken when removing the feces by wearing protective suits, masks, and gloves. Raccoon feces should never be touched by bare hands. Raccoon roundworm is a dangerous parasite that can and does infect humans. All care should be taken to remove any nesting raccoons, and their waste, from your home as soon as possible.

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