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Compton wildlife pose serious health risk

Education, common sense might prove the solution to the dangers of wild animal disease being passed to humans

Compton wildlife such as raccoons, opossums, and roof rats transmit intestinal parasitic roundworm, rabies and more

COMPTON (MNS) — It is no secret that wild raccoons, opossums, and roof rats literally have the run of Los Angeles County — from the mountains and hills to beach communities, and urban municipalities including Compton, Inglewood, Carson, and Torrance.

Bandit-masked raccoons are a familiar sight just about everywhere because they will eat nearly anything.

These ubiquitous mammals are found in forests, marshes, prairies, and even in cities. They are adaptable and use their dexterous front paws and long fingers to find and feast on a wide variety of fare. Many view raccoons as cuddly and cute. That may be the exception with pets, but wild raccoons baring sharp canines and paws are known to be aggressive attackers of people.

In the natural world, raccoons snare a lot of their meals in the water. These nocturnal foragers use lightning-quick paws to grab crayfish, frogs, and other aquatic creatures. On land, they pluck mice and insects from their hiding places and raid nests for tasty eggs.

Raccoons have adapted well to urban life, often rummaging through neighborhood backyard garbage cans without lids in search of food at night and in the wee morning. Raccoons also eat fruit and plants — including those grown in human gardens and farms.

Injurious parasitic roundworm

And while raccoons can transmit rabies to humans, their biggest threat comes from a parasite the mammals carry in their intestines — the raccoon roundworm, an organism so harmful, if induced into the bloodstream in humans, can cause life-threatening neurological damage to the brain and spinal cord.

The roundworm is zoonotic, meaning it can pass from animal to animal or animal to human. Adult female roundworms produce thousands to millions of eggs per day. After the eggs are shed in feces, they embryonate into a larval stage in about 3-4 weeks. They may remain viable in the environment for 5-6 years.

Rare disease

Clinical and pathological symptoms occur when an abnormal host (an animal other than the raccoon, i.e.: a pet) becomes infected. It can cause a very rare disease called Visceral Larva Migrans (VLM) in humans and other animals, as well as Ocular Larva Migrans (OLM), and Neural Larva Migrans (NLM). If ingested by an abnormal host, the eggs penetrate the small intestine (which they apparently do not do in raccoons) and undergo an aberrant migration through the body.

The eggs hatch and the larvae migrate to the brain, eyes and other organs. The parasite has been implicated in cases of brain, spinal cord, and central nervous system disorders; serious eye disease, and death or paralysis depending on the location in the body and number of worms.

Human toxocarosis and Baylisascaris

It should be noted that visceral larva migrans and ocular larva migrans in humans (and other animals) can also be caused by feces of other animals – most notably pet dogs and cats. Human infection with the toxiocaris larvae of canine or feline roundworms is known collectively as toxocariasis.

According to the Texas Department of Health, Division of Zoonosis Control, all cases of toxocariasis come from pets and an estimated 10,000 new cases of roundworm infection occur in children every year, most often resulting from ingesting dirt contaminated with animal feces. Most human infections are mild enough to go unnoticed and apparently produce no permanent damage.

However, sometimes toxocariasis infection results in severe and even fatal disease. Common symptoms include abdominal pain, headache, weakness, lethargy, and wheezing. Due to the public health significance, it is important to distinguish Baylisascaris from Toxocara.

In many states raccoons are being systematically euthanized because of the panic over perceived danger of transmission of the raccoon roundworm to humans as a result of two documented cases (one a fatality) to date, including a case in 1998 where a child in Pacific Grove, Calif. was infected by eating bark on firewood that had been contaminated by raccoon feces. Over 177 local wild raccoons were systematically executed before a lawsuit by the City’s concerned citizens brought the killings to a halt. While radication of raccoons will not prevent visceral larva migrans in humans, education and common sense might prove the solution.

Prevention

Contact with wild raccoons or exposure to their feces should be avoided. Hunters, trappers, and wildlife rehabilitators should wash their hands after handling raccoons. Wild raccoons should be discouraged from inhabiting buildings or other areas used by humans. Prevention also attainable by avoiding touching or inhaling raccoon feces, using rubber gloves and a mask when cleaning cages or attics, burying or burning all feces, keeping children and pets away from raccoon cages and enclosures, and disinfecting cages and enclosures between litters.

All cages and nest boxes used for housing raccoons should not be used for any other animals. They should remain strictly for raccoon use. Do frequent fecal screens on all raccoons in possession. If positive, a wildlife vet may recommend de-worming the raccoon via treatment with an anthelmintic such as Panacur (brand of Fenbendazole) at 1 cc per pound of body weight each week until release or other accepted treatment.

Remember that raccoons may have fecal matter on their paws and bodies; take appropriate safeguards. As a precaution to guard against human toxocariasis, all raccoons, dogs, and cats taken into rehab should be de-wormed by a veterinarian.

Diseases associated with opossums

Parasites and pathogens are present in the opossum hair, skin, and feces. These include roundworms, fleas, and mites.

Breathing roundworm (not to be confused with the raccoon roundworm) eggs can be a serious health problem. This worm may be in the intestines for many years, inducing stomach pains and breathing problems.

Fleas from opossums are usually transmitted to pets. Dogs and cats that come in contact with these animals will more than likely carry fleas indoors. People infected with fleas can experience severe headaches, fever, and fatigue. Fleas are also associated with the transmission of plague and murine typhus.

People exposed to mites from opossums can develop scabies of the skin.

These three health conditions are considered vectors of Lyme disease. If infected, a person may experience fever, fatigue, nausea and sore throat. If worse, this can lead to arthritis in the joints of the knees and elbows.

Most of these diseases are usually made of opossum feces or waste conditions can usually be left in the area where the previously acquired.

In addition to these diseases may be a rare event of opossums transmitting rabies to humans and animals.

The same precautions used with raccoons should also be applied when handling opossums.

Roof rats and house mice

House mice, roof rats, and Norway rats can reproduce year-round when adequate food, water, and shelter are available. The average female house mouse can produce up to eight litters per year with an average litter size of four to seven pups.

Rats can reproduce up to six times per year with litters averaging from four to eight pups each. Each night, rats can scurry 100 to 300 feet from the nest in search of food. House mice can search for food and nesting materials in an area as small as 10 feet from the nest or as far as 50 feet away. Roof rats are extremely agile and can swing beneath rafters, jump as far as four feet from branches to roof tops, and climb pipes and wires.

Roof rats usually enter through the upper portions of buildings and nest there. They also frequently find harborage in plants such as Algerian ivy, bougainvillea, and the dead fronds of palm trees. Rats and mice are nocturnal with most activity occurring after sunset to just before sunrise.

Young mice can enter through openings slightly larger than one-fourth-inch in diameter and juvenile rats can enter openings as small as one-half-inch in diameter. The house mouse, roof rat, and Norway rat can reproduce year-round when adequate food, water, and shelter are available.

READ MORE: How can i prevent wild animals from foraging for food in my yard?

The Compton Herald consulted the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control for this report. For more information visit animalcare.lacounty.gov

Jarrette Fellows, Jr. is Publisher and Editor of Compton Herald. He attended junior and senior high school in Compton, and is an alumnus of California State University, Los Angeles.

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