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Medical News & Perspectives
November 6, 2002

Raccoon Parasite an Emerging Health Concern

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JAMA. 2002;288(17):2106-2110. doi:10.1001/jama.288.17.2106-JMN1106-2-1

San Diego—As raccoons have become familiar denizens of suburban and city neighborhoods, many people see this masked marauder as a largely benign manifestation of nature in their own back yards. But scientists and public health experts say it's time to remove the welcome mat, because the animals often carry a roundworm parasite that is increasingly recognized as the cause of a rare but deadly form of encephalitis, especially in children.

Even though there have been only 14 verified cases of severe or fatal raccoon roundworm encephalitis in the United States since 1981, the ubiquity of raccoons in urban and suburban environments, the high prevalence of the infection in these animals, and the potentially catastrophic damage the parasite can cause in humans make the issue one of public health significance, William Murray, DVM, of San José State University explained during a symposium on emerging pathogens at the annual Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.