Steer Clear Of Raccoon Feces in Caves By Nate Newkirk Baylisascaris (Bay-liss-ass-kuh-ris) Infection (Raccoon Roundworm) Infection So here you are, on your belly, up ahead you spot 6 inch long white hairs sticking up from the ground. Have you just stumbled upon some nice gypsum cotton? You crawl ahead further to enjoy your new find. At its source is a dark black tubular pile with brown seeds. In comes the pungent odor. Congrats, you have just discovered a pile of crap! What is Baylisascaris? This is an intestinal roundworm that can infect meat eating animals, in particular raccoons. Infection of Baylisascaris in raccoons is not harmful and rarely causes symptoms. Raccoons are considered the host for the worms in nature. When the eggs are ingested by other animals, such as humans, problems can arise. How common is Baylisascaris infection? Raccoons are often found infected throughout the U.S. with the main infections occurring in the Midwest, northeast, and west coast. Very few cases have been reported in humans(30 cases thus far). Scientists believe that some cases are improperly diagnosed though. How is it spread to humans? Once raccoons are infected, they discard millions of eggs in their feces. It takes 2-4 weeks for the eggs to develop to the infective stages. The eggs have a thick shell and are resistant to environmental conditions. The eggs can survive for years with adequate moisture. Cave environments are perfect for long term survival of the eggs; assuming they develop and reach infectivity there, which they probably do. To become infected, one must ingest, NOT inhale the eggs to be able to hatch and discharge larvae. This is mostly done by being in contact with the feces in water, mud, hands to mouth contact(such as those tasty cave snacks) or other objects that have come into contact with it. You can also be infected if you eat another animal which has Baylisascaris. What are the signs and symptoms? It mainly depends on the number of eggs ingested. Ingesting a small amount of eggs may not be harmful at all. Swallowing a large amount of eggs may cause serious problems. Once inside the body, via ingestion, the eggs hatch into larvae. The larvae never become an adult worm but then travel throughout the body such as the liver, brain, spinal cord and other places. This is when damage to the body takes place. Symptoms can include nausea, tiredness, liver enlargement, lack of coordination, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of muscle control, coma, blindness or even death. These symptoms start to show up around 10-14 days and you may see visual disturbances. What to do if you think you have been infected? Seek an exam by an ophthalmologist ASAP. Be sure to mention that you were recently around raccoons or their feces. There is currently no effective cure for infection. Early treatment is best. Diagnosis is very difficult and is usually done by ruling out other diseases. For more information call the Parasitic Diseases Epidemiology Branch at 770488-7760. How to avoid becoming infected? With reasonable care, chances of infection from such sources are low, especially in quantities that are particularly dangerous. Avoid crawling through the feces, especially direct contact with your hands or gloves. Try to bring in prepackaged cave food in wrappers. This way you can avoid direct contact with your hands-to food-to mouth. You can also buy a hand sanitizing lotion. Purell makes a liquid hand sanitizer that kills 99.9% of germs and bacteria within 15 seconds. The best solution is to avoid contact with it period. References: Neil W. Dyer, DVM, DACVP Director, NDSU Diagnostic Laboratory Charles L. Stoltenow, DVM, DACVPM Extension Veterinarian KR Kazacos, DVM, Purdue Univ, West Lafayette, Indiana "Raccoon Roundworm Encephalitis---Chicago, Illinois and Los Angeles, California, 2000" MMWR January 4, 2002 Vol. 50/No. 51.