I have stood on my front deck on a late summer evening and watched a raccoon cross the street not 50 feet from my front door. I’ve seen young raccoons with their butts sticking out of my bird feeder, and I’ve seen their indented trails in the snow, where they venture out of their dens on warmer winter nights.
[caption id="attachment_263" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Urban raccoon, Christopher Michaud, Creative Commons 3.0"][/caption]
Though no one who’s ever heard raccoons brawling at night would mistake them for cuddly friends, there’s something charming about their striped faces, their round furry physique, their dexterous paws. I don’t let it fool me. These wild animals are becoming common in urban and suburban environments because we are feeding them. Where raccoons are living and eating, they are also leaving their droppings – in latrines. And where there are raccoon latrines, there will likely be Baylisascaris eggs (intestinal roundworm), and these can be deadly to people.
Raccoons, like people, don’t tend to spread their droppings at random all over the neighborhood: they establish latrines on horizontal surfaces such as fences tops, wood piles, roofs, branches. They return to the same place again and again, creating areas that are heavily contaminated with their feces, and which may contain millions of Baylisascaris eggs. Swallow those eggs by accident or chance, and you could be in serious trouble.
The eggs hatch after being swallowed, releasing larvae that migrate through the tissues and typically invade the head and brain, where they can do terrible damage. Children, and the mentally challenged are at highest risk because these people are more likely to put contaminated fingers in their mouths.
Raccoons are cute, but they should be cute in the wild, not in human communities. Don’t encourage raccoons – don’t feed them, keep them out of buildings, block access under decks, clean up latrines and remove contaminated soil or wood. Always consult a knowledgeable source about how to do this safely and effectively.