Diseases from raccoons and other wildlife
Raccoons have adapted to urban life and are commonly seen or encountered in parks, neighborhoods or yards. Raccoons may carry diseases that can be spread to people (zoonoses) and pets, including raccoon roundworm (Baylisascaris), leptospirosis, and rabies. They can also cause serious scratch and bite injuries to people and pets.
Raccoon roundworm (Baylisascaris infection)
Baylisascaris, an intestinal raccoon roundworm, can infect humans and a variety of other animals . Raccoons establish community latrines — sites where they repeatedly deposit fresh feces that are very likely to contain the roundworm eggs. Once deposited in the environment, the eggs develop into the infectious form in 2-4 weeks and can survive in the soil for several years. If these infectious eggs are accidentally swallowed by humans, the larvae (immature stage of worms) hatch out of the eggs and may move into organs of the body causing serious disease. Symptoms of infection in people depend on how many eggs are ingested and where in the body the larvae migrate (travel to), such as the liver, brain, eye, or spinal cord. Symptoms may include tiredness, lack of coordination, loss of muscle control, blindness, and coma. Symptoms of infection usually take about a week to develop. If a person is suspected of having swallowed soil or other substances contaminated by raccoon feces, consult a health care provider immediately. Be sure to report the concern about recent exposure to raccoon feces to the health care provider. Early treatment can prevent infection and serious illness. Young children who play outside and developmentally disabled persons are at highest risk.
Leptospirosis is a disease caused by Leptospira bacteria that are carried in the urine of rats, raccoons, and some other wild and domestic animals. Leptospirosis can occur in both people and a wide range of animals, including dogs. People and animals can get infected when water or soil contaminated with urine of infected animals gets on their skin, or in the nose, mouth, throat or eyes, or is swallowed. Dogs are at higher risk of infection because they often drink or lick water on the ground that can be contaminated; infected dogs can become severely ill or even die. Some people infected with leptospirosis will have no symptoms at all, and some people will become severely ill. Leptospirosis may cause influenza-like symptoms, severe head and muscle aches, high fever, and in some cases serious liver and kidney problems.
- Leptospirosis facts, CDC
- Leptospirosis, PHSKC
- Canine leptospirosis in King County, PHSKC
- For veterinarians, see the Canine Leptospirosis Case Report Form
Raccoons and rabies prevention
Raccoons are the most frequently reported animal species with rabies in the U.S., specifically in eastern and southeastern parts of the country. Although there have been no rabies cases identified in raccoons in Washington state, we cannot be certain that rabies is not present in raccoons or that it may not occur in the future. All raccoon exposures including bites and scratches should be assessed by a health care provider, and if there are concerns about possible exposure to rabies (i.e. if the raccoon appeared sick or was acting abnormally), reported to Public Health. Rabies can be successfully prevented in people by giving rabies vaccines shortly after an exposure. Raccoon exposures to pets should be reported to the Public Health Veterinarian.
- Rabies, PHSKC (scroll down alphabetical list to Rabies for information)
- For providers: Animal bites and suspectd human rabies exposures
Preventing diseases from raccoons
- Discourage raccoons around your residence. It is illegal to keep raccoons as pets in Washington state.
- Never feed raccoons
- Feed pets inside and store pet food inside
- Keep pets inside at night
- Prevent raccoons from entering your house through pet doors or other openings
- Keep garbage cans inside and use locking or secured lids outside
- Clean barbecue grills after each use
- Use secure bins for food composting
- Avoid contact with raccoon feces and safely clean up areas where raccoons defecate (raccoon latrines) on your property.
- Avoid direct contact with water, soil and vegetation contaminated with raccoon urine.
- Vaccinate cats, dogs and ferrets to protect them against rabies; consider vaccinating dogs for leptospirosis.
- Contact an experienced wildlife control service for help cleaning up raccoon latrines and removing problem raccoons. Refer to the directory of Nuisance Wildlife Control Officers trained and regulated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
- If You Care, Don't Feed Us, PHSKC
This downloadable brochure describes the health risks of feeding wildlife such as raccoons. Neighborhood solutions to wildlife problems are emphasized.
- Living with Wildlife series, WA Dept of Fish and Wildlife
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife hosts a series of informational handouts about wildlife. You can find information about raccoons, pigeons, rats, crows, squirrels and many other wild animals. You can also access information ab out how locate a wildlife rehabilitator or a wildlife control company.