Volume 10, Number 9—September 2004
Baylisascaris procyonis in California
To the Editor: We read with interest the article of Roussere et al. on the distribution of Baylisascaris procyonis eggs in northern California communities (1). The widespread dissemination and high density of raccoon latrines in residential areas clearly pose potential health risks, particularly to young children.
While California has reported more cases of baylisascariasis than any other state, few published studies have reported on the distribution and prevalence of this helminth in the region. In 2001, we conducted a study to determine the presence of B. procyonis in the Santa Barbara area by examining roadkill raccoons recovered by animal control staff and stored in a refrigerated facility. On examination, the digestive tract from the stomach to the rectum was removed and tested for B. procyonis worms and eggs. Of 26 raccoons examined, 24 (92%, 95% confidence interval 75%–99%) were positive for B. procyonis infection. B. procyonis worms were found in 85% of the animals examined and eggs were found in 73%. Pet food was frequently found (43%) in the stomach contents of examined raccoons, indicating that such food was made accessible to these animals, either intentionally or inadvertently by residents.
B. procyonis has been identified along the central coast of California, which expands the known range of this helminthic zoonotic agent. This finding, coupled with other published studies, indicates that Baylisascaris may be prevalent throughout the state (1,2). Although our study was based on a small sample of selected raccoons, the high infection rate is cause for concern and indicates the potential for human exposure. A presumptive case of B. procyonis infection in an 11-month-old child was reported in Santa Barbara in 2003 (1).
Determining the distribution and prevalence of B. procyonis is necessary to inform local healthcare providers, public health authorities, and the public of the potential risk. Using road-kill raccoons is a relatively easy method for quickly assessing the presence of B. procyonis in a community. Also, this approach avoids trapping and handling live animals and allows stomach contents to be examined to determine where raccoons are feeding. Data from such assessments must be interpreted with caution, since they may not represent all raccoons in an area.
- Roussere GP, Murray WJ, Raudenbush CB, Kutilek MJ, Levee DJ, Kazacos KR. Raccoon roundworm eggs near homes and risk for larva migrans disease, California communities. Emerg Infect Dis. 2003;9:1516–23.
- Evans RH. Baylisascaris procyonis (Nematoda: Ascaridae) in raccoons (Procyon lotor) in Orange County, California. Vector Borne Zoonotic Dis. 2001;1:239–42.