Infected raccoons are "fairly common" across the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although most raccoons show no symptoms.
Human infections, though, are rare, the CDC reports. Less than 25 cases, including five that were fatal, have been reported since 2003, though the agency adds that additional cases might have gone undetected because the infection is difficult to diagnose.
Once ingested, symptoms take a week or more to develop as eggs turn into larvae and migrate through various organs, such as the liver, brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include nausea, fatigue, loss of balance or muscle control, liver enlargement and visual impairment.
For their study, the researchers surveyed 119 suburban Chicago backyards for evidence of raccoon latrines. All the backyards were located near a forest or marshland.
They found that about half the inspected yards had raccoon latrines, sometimes more than one, and about a quarter of those contained parasitic eggs.
Yards closest to a forest or marsh were most affected, the researchers found. The presence of pet food, bird feed or garbage outdoors made the latrines more likely, they reported, whereas outdoor pets had the opposite effect.
"Anywhere where you have high densities of people and raccoons, your children can be at risk," Page said. "Generally, the problem is more prevalent in areas that are not super hot because we know that heat kills the parasite eggs."
Anyone who finds raccoon droppings in their yard should clean the area immediately, she said. "Parasite eggs in fresh feces are not infective," she said. "It takes 30 days for them to become infective. You want to wear gloves and be careful, and if you're not sure how old the pile is, you need to be especially careful. But the risk is much, much less if you're
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