If you thought childhood couldn’t become any more dangerous, a new study in the September issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases notes that the Raccoons answering the call of nature in urban gardens could spread “raccoon roundworm encephalitis.” The bad news is that a), raccoons like to build latrines in people’s gardens, especially if they are near wooded areas, and b), nothing good for you ends with “encephalitis.”
Here’s the quick and dirty on raccoon roundworm: if you’re a human who manages to ingest the worm’s eggs – and for good measure there can be up to 20,000 per gram of raccoon poop – the larvae don’t turn into worms inside your body. Instead they make their way to the brain and eyes, and… well, you can read the news story at MedPage Today if you want to know precisely what follows. Hint: It involves the word “encyst.”
51 percent of the yards studied by the researchers had raccoon latrines, and 23 percent of those contained worm eggs.
The good news is that there are only 14 known cases in 30 years of roundworm encephalitis, which is also known by the considerably more difficult to pronounce name of baylisascariasis. But many of these occurred where raccoon latrines were in proximity to children’s play areas. The study is a valuable reminder that the call of nature often provides some of the deadliest, if easily desposed of, risks.
An advance publication version of the study is available via the Centers for Disease Control here.