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Raccoons Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

By Chris Williams on August 18, 2011.

Sure, they’re cute and we laugh at their antics. But close contact with raccoons is not good for your family’s health. Raccoons can transmit both rabies and roundworms to people.

Raccoons have accounted for the largest percentage of animal rabies cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control since 1990. While human rabies is still rare, about 37% of all rabies cases among animals in the U.S. occur among raccoons. Raccoon rabies is most common in 20 eastern states. You don’t have to be bitten by a rabid raccoon to get rabies. It can also be transmitted by contact with the saliva of the animal.

One of the signs of a rabid animal is an animal that is acting strangely. For example, a tame animal acting wild or a wild animal acting unusually tame. It’s often said that if nocturnal animals are active during the day when you don’t expect to see them, you should expect rabies. Raccoons are nocturnal animals but female raccoons are often active during the day when they are nursing young. Nevertheless, you should report any suspect raccoons or other animals to your local animal control office.

raccoonRoundworms can be passed to humans who have had contact with raccoon feces or the soil around it. Roundworms are nematodes that are intestinal parasites of animals and the vast majority of raccoons are infected. A raccoon passes thousands of microscopic roundworm eggs in its droppings. It takes 2 to 4 weeks for the deposited eggs to become infective. People get infected with roundworm if they accidentally ingest or inhale the eggs. Children are most at risk when they eat dirt or when they get eggs on their hands or on objects and then put them into their mouths.

After the roundworm eggs are ingested, they hatch into larvae which migrate through the wall of the intestine and can enter the liver, lungs, eyes, and brain. Early symptoms of raccoon roundworm infection include nausea, fatigue, loss of coordination and muscle control, and lack of attention. In severe cases, roundworms can cause permanent nervous system or vision disabilities, and blindness, coma, and death have occurred. Fewer than 25 cases of raccoon roundworm have been reported in the U.S., but it is likely that many cases have been undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

Children who play in areas where raccoons have deposited feces are especially at risk of getting roundworm. Protection is straightforward. Make sure you and your children avoid raccoon bathroom sites, areas where you spot the  dark, smelly, cylindrical feces that are blunt at the ends and often filled with seeds. Raccoons tend to use a common “latrine,” so there may be quite a pile of droppings. Latrine sites are often found at bases of trees, in unsealed attics, or on flat surfaces such as logs, tree stumps, rocks, decks, and rooftops. Roundworm eggs are very resistant to temperature and disinfectants and can last for years in an area. Clean-up of a latrine site requires the use of a respirator and protective clothing. Raccoon feces should be removed and burned, buried, or sent to a landfill.

Always wash your hands after working in the garden, stacking firewood, or after any contact with soil. If you find raccoon feces on your porch or deck, don’t touch the droppings, immediately dispose of them in a sealed plastic bag and disinfect the area with steam or boiling water. Cover children’s sand boxes.

Don’t take a chance with raccoons! If they are regular visitors to your property, or especially if you have them denning on your property, call Colonial. Removing nuisance wildlife is one of our specialties. We can humanely trap and relocate raccoons that are making your home their home. We can also advise you on steps you can take to make your property less inviting to raccoons in the future.

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