Kinkajous are strange little mammals from the Procyonidae family – the same family to which raccoons belong. Kinkajous are native to Central and South America and are occasionally kept as pets, but they don’t make great pets because they are strictly nocturnal, can be cranky when woken during the day, and can sometimes be aggressive. Regardless, there is a niche pet trade, particularly in the US.
A recent report in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report describes detection of Baylisascaris procyonis (the raccoon roundworm) in pet kinkajous in the US, including:
- A 10-week-old kinkajou in Tennessee in which Baylisascaris procyonis was found during a routine fecal examination.
- Detection of Baylisascaris eggs from soil samples under the cages of a kinkajou breeder in Florida (the breeder from which the Tennessee animal was obtained).
- An unrelated case (11 years earlier) in which adult Baylisascaris worms were found in the intestinal tract of two adult kinkajous that died of other causes.
No human infections (i.e. cases of larval migrans) were linked to infected kinkiajous.
Baylisascaris is a parasite that’s extremely common in raccoons, rare (but concerning and sometimes over-hyped) in dogs, and an extremely rare cause of disease in people. While rare in humans, it still gets a lot of attention because when disease does occur, it can cause serious neurological damage, typically in children. The damage is caused by migration of parasite larvae through the body, and through the brain. This can occur after someone swallows infective parasite eggs, which then hatch in the intestinal tract and then embark on their journey through the body.
It’s unclear whether Baylisascaris is a common problem in kinkajous (like it is in raccoons) or a rare finding (like it is in dogs), since this report only describes the parasite in a small number of animals, and no larger studies of intestinal parasites in kinkajous have been reported. It would be useful to know whether kinkajous are true reservoirs of this parasite (and therefore whether we should consider all kinkajous to be carriers) or whether infection is just an unusual finding.
Overall, the public health risk is likely limited.
- There aren’t that many pet kinkajous around, as far as I know.
- While Baylisascaris is nothing to dismiss, to get infected, a person still has to eat infective eggs from feces. The likelihood of transmission from a pet to a person is therefore low if good basic hygiene measures are used.
- The parasite eggs are not immediately infectious. They have to sit around in the environment before they are infectious, usually for 2-4 weeks. Therefore, prompt removal of feces and careful attention to basic practices like hand hygiene should greatly reduce the risk of transmission.
- Routine testing and deworming of pet kinkajous should reduce the risk even further.
What does this mean for pet kinkajou owners? Not a lot beyond what would normally be recommended. Pet kinkajous should have good veterinary care and regular fecal examinations. Regular deworming should be discussed with the attending veterinarian, and good hygiene practices should be used to avoid contact with feces, especially old feces.
Photo credit: Robrrb at en.wikipedia