No Joking: Raccoon Excrement Should Be No Laughing Matter

Deer hunters, in particular, know how raccoons can be famous for leaving their “calling cards” behind in some peculiar places.   In fact, on my property I have several permanent tree stands that seem to quite regularly attract these little masked bandits with their telltale mess of leaving fecal matter behind.   Let’s face it…it’s gross, it’s an inconvenience at best…but long ago I’ve concluded it’s the price a deer hunter using a tree stand must occasionally pay to interact out-of-doors with nature.

Ah, but not so fast.   Up until recently I always considered the presence of raccoon poop (OK, there I finally said it) to be fairly benign and certainly not hazardous in any way.   Turns out I was quite wrong.

What I discovered was that raccoon feces have been known to harbor microscopic eggs from an intestinal parasite commonly known as raccoon roundworm (Baylisascaris procyonis).   These parasites release millions of eggs that are then passed in the infected raccoon’s fecal matter.   After two to four weeks under the right conditions, the fecal eggs can become infective to other animals, including humans thru direct contact (primarily ingestion).   Worse yet, these eggs have been known to thrive and remain infective within contaminated soil up to several years later.IMG5__00360

Last October a small child from upstate New York was infected by raccoon roundworm and developed severe neurological problems resulting in permanent brain damage.   Earlier this year a teenager, also from New York, suffered effects from raccoon roundworm causing blindness in one eye.   According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), reports of this emerging threat first date back to 1984 when a 10–month old child eventually died.   Reports further indicate that as many as 30 medical cases have been reported over the years with 4 documented deaths directly related to raccoon roundworm.

OK, before I get you too worked up about this medical condition let’s put things in proper perspective.   First, raccoon roundworm primarily impacts children to a much greater extent than adults.   The main reason is kids are more apt to put things in their mouths and generally don’t appreciate the concept of hand washing the same way most of us adults do.

Moreover, not all raccoons are host to the parasite, yet a high percentage of the population does seem to be positive carriers.   And while human infection with raccoon roundworm does not appear to be a widespread problem, it’s certainly prudent to have a fundamental understanding that the disease threat exists — particularly to hunters and trappers.

So, the next time you discover a rebel raccoon has turned your tree stand (or perhaps even some outdoor building) into a latrine…think twice about the little gift it left behind.   It may seem weather-beaten, old and otherwise harmless…but now you certainly should know better.

The bottom line is nature can pass along several nasty diseases to us outdoors folks via different routes of exposure.   Most of us are familiar with disease transmission through direct contact, such as with an animal bite.   Yet, many sportsmen fail to recognize how what seems like an inconsequential exposure(contact with feces) can have a threat lingering for weeks, months or even years later.

When I chose to write this blog posting I figured the subject matter would generate a few chuckles from readers…and that’s perfectly fine with me.   Yet, I somehow suspect from now on you’ll view raccoon droppings in a much more enlightened way.   Come this fall, I know I sure will when deer hunting from up in a tree.

For additional readings on this topic:

Baylisascaris procyonis: An Emerging Helminthic Zoonosis
Raccoon Roundworm Infection Fact Sheet
MN DNR: Living With Wildlife – Raccoons
Wisconsin Dept. of Health Services — Fact Sheet

© 2009 Jim Braaten.   All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.