An interesting paper in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases (Page et al. 2011) describes an impressively large effort to study the effect of anthelmintic (dewormer) baiting on parasite contamination at raccoon latrines sites in Indiana.
Raccoon latrines can be highly contaminated with various parasites, because raccoons congregate at these sites and use them as "communal toilets." Of all these parasites, the raccoon roundworm, Baylisascaris procyonis, gets the most attention. It is very common in raccoons, but it is also a very rare cause of disease in people who swallow the infective parasite eggs from the environment. In some of these people the parasite larvae can cause very serious neurological disease which can be very difficult to treat.
In this study, the research team identified 559 raccoon latrines in north-central Indiana. They removed debris from the areas and used a torch to help kill the parasite eggs that were there (this is one of the very few effective ways to kill the very hardy eggs of Baylisascaris). At a selection of latrine sites, they also collected baseline fecal samples. After this was all done, they distributed dewormer (pyrantel pamoate) baits in half the areas once a month (leaving the other half of the areas as controls). They then collected fecal samples at all the latrine sites approximately 6, 12 and 18 months later.
Fecal samples were tested for B. procyonis eggs. Also, they captured mice from some of the study patches. Like people, mice are intermediate hosts for B. procyonis, and they can be infected in the same manner, so researchers looked for B. procyonis larvae in the brains of the mice.
Overall, they tested 1797 fecal samples. In the first round of sampling, 33% of samples contained B. procyonis eggs. The prevalence of eggs decreases significantly (3-fold) after baiting by the first recheck, and stayed at that level throughout the study. By the one-year sample time, there was also a significant decline in B. procyonis larvae in the brains of mice (27% vs 38%).
This impressive study shows the potential impact of controlled and somewhat practical interventions on the presence of some concerning microorganisms. Certainly, no one is going to be able to treat all raccoon latrines with a torch. However, dewormer baiting might be a consideration in areas that are close to human populations, along with other control measures. Dewormer baiting could be relatively cost-effective in this case. It won’t eliminate the problem, but it might help reduce environmental contamination and the associated potential for human and domestic animal exposure.