Raccoons are wily animals, extremely intelligent and adaptable to many different environments and living conditions. Many people have struggled with these creatures, trying to keep them out of the garbage cans at night while they forage for food. Along with raccoons comes the possibility that they carry disease. Ringworm and rabies are two of the common diseases associated with raccoons. What do these diseases mean, and how are they transmitted?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, wild animals accounted for 92% of all reported cases of rabies in 2010. Of those, 36.5% were found in raccoons. These cases were overwhelmingly found along the eastern United States.
Rabies is transmitted primarily through animal bites containing saliva, although it has also rarely been transmitted through other routes such as the eyes, nose and mouth.
Rabies in raccoons was first documented in 1991 in the state of Connecticut, and includes the following symptoms:
- Aggressive without being provoked
- Paralysis and lack of coordination (may have trouble walking, or walking in circles)
- Movement is impaired
- Disorientation (healthy raccoons look alert, but infected ones may look confused)
- Making unusual noise (foraging raccoons typically don’t make noises)
- Foaming at the mouth (you are way too close, if you can see this!)
Roundworm in raccoons, known as Baylisascaris, can infect people along with other animals, including dogs. Even though infection in humans is rare, it can be severe if the roundworm invades the eyes, organs or brain.
Raccoons can become infected in two different ways:
- Young raccoons eat the roundworm eggs while foraging, grooming or feeding.
- The roundworm is ingested by adult raccoons while eating other animals, such as birds or rodents, which have been infected with larvae.
The worms inside a raccoon lay eggs, which are passed from the raccoon in feces.
Raccoons defecate in a communal latrine, and large amounts of feces may be found, posing a threat to people who may accidentally inhale eggs while cleaning the scat. Children are particularly at risk, as they may touch the feces, and then put their contaminated fingers in their mouths.
Infected animals often show no symptoms of roundworm, making it impossible to tell if the animal is infected. Transmission of rabies to humans, while very rare from raccoons can be potentially life-threatening if a person is bitten. If you suspect a raccoon is infected, call your local animal control and have them removed safely. Your pets and family will be better for it.
Related: 5 methods to combat raccoons