Raccoons can do more than just knock over your trashcan: They can also spread disease, with roundworms being of particular concern to humans. But luckily a group of researchers has come up with an effective and humane -- nay, delicious -- method of dosing the masked bandits against infection.
In the latest issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, researchers lead by L. Kristen Page of Wheaton College report on their tasty tactics for protecting public health.
Raccoons can carry Baylisascaris worms -- intestinal parasites that can cause rare but serious human infection. The Centers for Disease Control reports that infected raccoons have been found in a number of states across the United States. Eggs are passed along by the feces of infected raccoons, and usually only cause problems if they're ingested.
But hey, you say, I don't go around eating raccoon poop! Unfortunately, the eggs don't become infectious until they've been out in the open air for two to four weeks. So the real danger is that you'll accidentally ingest some dirt that used to have raccoon feces sitting on it, and is now full of active eggs. Unsurprisingly, infection is much more common in young children who play outside.
The researchers hoped to improve on current methods in the Chicago area, which involve blowtorching areas infested with the tapeworm eggs. "The eggs are really resistant to temperature change," Page told NPR. "[A] Midwestern summer won't kill them and certainly our winters won't kill them." It's possible that eggs could last as long as a decade in the dirt, she said.
Marshmallow fluff certainly sounds more appealing than a blowtorch, all things being equal. Page and her colleagues went to these raccoon hotspots and placed monthly baits of marshmallow mixed with a deworming drug. After a year of this monthly treatment, only 3 percent of the feces at these sites contained worm eggs -- compared to 13 percent in the untreated areas. By treating raccoons once a month, you keep the worms they carry from ever maturing enough to drop eggs.
If you think your yard has become a popular poop spot for local raccoons, you can find out more about safe clean-up methods here.