Local toddler's rare disease linked to raccoon roundworms, health experts suspect

A toddler in King County may have contracted an infection -- linked to a potentially deadly parasite. It comes from racoon droppings - and tonight the Health Department is warning pet owners and parents of the risks.

A toddler in Seattle may have contracted a very rare disease after accidentally ingesting contaminated raccoon droppings.

“Raccoons are known to commonly carry the roundworm and they don’t always show signs of being ill,” said Dr. Vance Kawakami, from Seattle and King County Public Health.

Officials think that’s what sickened a little boy, who is under 2 years old, in Seattle.

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“They (raccoons) shed it in their feces and in the environment,” Kawakami added. “It needs to spend two to four weeks to turn to infected from where humans accidentally ingest it.”

Many of the survivors have long-term neurological problems.

While toddlers are at high risk, anyone is susceptible, even your pets.

“Basically, if you ingest enough of it, it hatches into larvae in your intestines and can spread to parts of the body to cause illness,” Kawakami said

“We want you to take steps around your property to make sure to discourage raccoons from spending time on property,” Kawakami said.

Symptoms vary depending on where the parasite travels in your body. But they can range from nausea to acute blindness to loss of motor control.

Final results from the CDC should be back in a couple of weeks.

The little boy is now recovering at home after having been hospitalized for four days.

A rare and severe infection

Only 29 cases of Baylisascariasis have been reported in the U.S. since 1973 and no cases have ever been reported in Washington State.

People can become infected if they inadvertently swallow dirt or materials contaminated with raccoon droppings that contain microscopic Baylisascaris roundworm eggs. The roundworm larvae can hatch inside a person and travel throughout the body. The infection can be severe and even fatal if the roundworms enter a person's eye, organs, or brain. Baylisascariasis does not spread person-to-person.

Young children are at the highest risk for infection because they are more likely to put contaminated objects or fingers in their mouths, or eat contaminated dirt, sand, or other material.

Stay away from raccoons and their latrines

To prevent infection, wash your hands after working or playing outdoors and avoid areas that are frequented by raccoons, especially "raccoon latrines."

Fresh droppings usually are dark and tubular, have a pungent odor (usually worse than dog or cat feces), and often contain undigested seeds or other food items (go to the CDC page for photos).

Raccoons prefer sites that are flat and raised off the ground, but they also use the base of trees, and occasionally, open areas. Common sites for raccoon latrines are roofs, decks, unsealed attics, haylofts, the raised forks of trees, fence lines, woodpiles, fallen logs, and large rocks.

You can prevent having a raccoon latrine on your property by discouraging raccoons from frequenting your outdoor living space:

  • Raccoons may use sandboxes as a latrine. Keep them covered when not in use.
  • Don’t leave human or pet food out where raccoons can get to it, and keep your garbage storage secure.
  • Close off any possible entrances to your attic or under your house or decks and cover sandboxes.
  • Remove bird feeders and fish ponds as they attract raccoons.

If you discover a raccoon latrine on your property, keep children and pets away from that area. Cleaning the area may prevent possible infection. Newly deposited eggs take at least 2-4 weeks to become infectious. You can reduce the risk of exposure and possible infection if you promptly remove raccoon droppings after you find them.

Special precautions should be used while cleaning to prevent contaminating yourself and other surfaces or accidentally swallowing any roundworm eggs. See the CDC web site for details.

Baylisascariasis and pets

Do not keep, feed, or adopt wild animals, including raccoons, as pets! Infection rarely causes symptoms in raccoons, so you cannot tell if a raccoon is infected by observing its behavior.

Dogs can be infected with the Baylisascaris roundworm, but it is rare. Have all pets de-wormed under a veterinarian's supervision and take precautions to avoid contact with their feces. Talk to your veterinarian if you have any concerns about Baylisascaris and your dog.