What’s for breakfast!
A local volunteer caring for outdoor cats found this new face at the feeding station one morning.
Baylisascaris procyonis is a roundworm (similar to those commonly found in dogs and cats) carried by many raccoons. In the small intestine of the raccoon, this roundworm may be little more than a nuisance. The eggs are spread by raccoon dung.
Baylisascaris also infests a wide range of birds and mammals – including people. When Baylisascaris finds itself in animals other than raccoons, it bores through the intestinal tract, attacking the liver, lungs, eyes and brain.
Raccoon roundworms can be a death sentence for pigeons, doves, parrots, chickens and other birds.
In humans, detection is often difficult and too often too late. Debilitating illness, blindness, permanent afflictions and death can result. And the cases of disease discovered by doctors quite likely are far from the total number of infections. People are big so a small number of roundworms tunneling through tissue may only cause non-specific symptoms. (The eye is an exception. If only one of the parasites gets there, serious damage results.) This is far from good news. Even if the parasite fails to send a victim to an emergency room or a morgue, there’s no such thing as an acceptable number of worms eating away at the brain or other organs.
The raccoon long was an icon of the deep forest and only was expected to be found there. Indeed, the coonskin cap is associated with Davy Crockett and other frontiersman. When raccoons just inhabited rural areas, city dwellers had no reason to worry about Baylisascaris. This now is the strange new One World that has such diseases in it. Like viruses of the African rain forest that have made their way to New York, parasites of the back woods now can be found here. Raccoons — and their roundworms — reside in Manhattan, the other Boroughs and throughout the Metropolitan area.
A specific risk to public health is the increasingly common – and publicly promoted – caring for outdoor cats, if not responsibly done. Large quantities of food placed out at night or before dawn will surely attract raccoons. Regularly eating somewhere, raccoons will be regularly relieving themselves nearby and so posing a danger to people. As raccoons are secretive and only active after dark, most people will never see them. Once the animal excrement becomes part of the soil, that hides the roundworm eggs. People – especially children – then can be easily infected.
The answer is not the elimination of cats or the persecution of raccoons, but common sense. Feed community cats after sunrise and well before sunset. Only put out as much as the felines will consume, not leaving any extra for “guests.” Raccoons are native animals and so they are our neighbors. These furry fellows with the bandit mask have every right to live their lives in peace.
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Baylisascaris Larva Migrans
USGS Circular 1412
By: Kevin R. Kazacos
Baylisascaris procyonis-the raccoon roundworm
Professor Emeritus of Veterinary Parasitology at the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, Kevin Kazacos, DVM, PhD talks on Outbreak News Today about this little known, but very dangerous parasite.
Parasitic Diseases, 6th Edition – Free Download