Courtesy bug_girl_miRemember stumbling through the world as a stupid little kid? You touched bugs. You dug holes. You explored mud. And then… then you heard about killer bees. Killer bees and flesh-eating diseases. Killer bees, flesh-eating diseases, and tiny eggs that could come off a picnic table, get into your body, and hatch into something that would eat your brain.
It wasn’t the end of your childhood, it just gave you something to think about all the time. No, you’re childhood didn’t end until you were able to convince yourself that these things—killer bees, flesh-eating bacteria, brain eggs—were harmless… if they even exist at all.
Well guess what: they do. They exist, and they are dangerous! Your childhood is long gone, and now so is your adulthood. Welcome to the next stage in your life: The childhood nightmare spotlight!
Today’s feature: raccoon poop brain parasites! They’re real, and they’re all up in your brains!
So, what’s nice about raccoon poop brain parasites as a childhood nightmare—as opposed to childhood nightmares like killer bees, or one of those little fish that will swim up your urethra—is that even we fancy city-folk are vulnerable to it.
See, there is, in this world, a thing called Baylisascaris procyonis. B. procyonis is a species of roundworm. It is a parasitic species of roundworm, in fact, known to infest the guts of raccoons. Should procyonis eggs find their way into a human (and more on ust how they might do that in a minute), there’s no need to worry about them turning into worms and going crazy in the intestines—the parasite really only wants to do that to raccoons. Instead, the eggs hatch into larvae, and enter the blood stream, traveling about the body to wherever suits them. I think that whoever wrote the wikipedia article on them puts what happens next rather well:
A great deal of damage occurs wherever the larva tries to make a home. In response to the attack, the body attempts to destroy it by walling it off or killing it. The larva moves rapidly to escape, seeking out the liver, eyes, spinal cord or brain. Occasionally they can be found in the heart, lungs, and other organs.
This can lead to a whole range of symptoms from skin irritation to blindness to brain damage (and what doctors call “craziness”) to death.
So how do they get in you? You have to eat poorly cooked raccoon, or uncooked raccoon feces.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Phew! It’s been years since I’ve had undercooked raccoon, and I almost never put raccoon feces in my mouth anymore. Not since college! I don’t even know where to get raccoon feces these days!”
Shows what you know. Raccoons are everywhere, even in your precious, safe cities. And when they pick a spot to relieve themselves, they really go for it. Raccoons, as it happens, us communal “latrines.” That means that multiple raccoons will pick a spot in, say, your back yard, to all go to the bathroom on. Each gram of raccoon feces can contain up to 20,000 worm eggs, so when you’ve got a latrine full of raccoon mess, you’ve got plenty of potential brain parasites. Especially if you’re in the habit of putting everything in your mouth, or of cleaning your yard with a leaf-blower. (The leaf blower would fill the air—and possibly your mouth—with tiny particles of raccoon feces and brain parasite eggs.)
Not many people get the disease (only 14 in the last 30 years, says this article, or possibly 25 in the last 6 years, like this article says) but getting it is bad enough that you might want to give it a little thought. Or lots of though, late at night. Don’t believe me? Read this article again.
The best way to avoid it is to keep that raccoon feces out of your mouth. And to follow the simple tips on cleaning up raccoon latrines offered in this article (which you already looked at). My favorite anti-raccoon latrine tip? “Flame” the latrine with a propane torch! It’s like Aliens!
At any rate, you’re probably safe. Possibly safe. Safe-ish.
You really could have raccoon poop brain parasites, you know. There were probably some on your deck, and you didn’t even think about it when you were eating that watermelon.
You probably have a headache right now.
Flesh eating bacteria ranks very highly on my list of irrational childhood fears. It’s below my fear of the sun suddenly going dark, but above killer bees, fire ants, lava, and swallowing sharp metal things.
However, a new study shows that, with the rising global temperature, cases flesh eating disease will be increasing and, perhaps, spreading into countries in which it had never before been an issue. Consequently, this particular fear has been upgraded from “irrational,” to “mostly irrational.”
With horribly painful, potentially fatal, and really gross-looking infections now imminent for all of us, I thought it would be worthwhile to swing the spotlight of attention over to…
It turns out that what we call “flesh eating disease” can be caused any one of several different infections. Necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating bacteria) can refer to Vibrio vulnificus, Clostridium perfringens, or Bacteroides fragilis, but most often Group A streptococcus is the culprit. It starts at the site of a cut or bruise, and is very painful but generally has no visible symptoms early on. If the infection is shallow, swelling, redness, and heat will develop shortly, sometimes accompanied by diarrhea and vomiting. Skin color will then darken, and blisters will develop. This is followed by the death of the affected subcutaneous tissues. In severe cases this all can happen within several hours, and in such instances the death rate is about 30%.
The bacteria don’t actually eat your flesh, which is a relief. Instead, they release toxins that cause your body to destroy itself (T-cells, cytokines, over-stimulated macrophages, blah blah blah).
The condition is treated by antibiotics, amputation of affected organs, and the removal of necrotic tissue. Also, by denial.
The specific variety of flesh eating disease that this study focuses on is slightly different.
It’s actually caused by a protozoan parasite and is transmitted by the bites of sand flies. It’s called “leishmaniasis.” Leishmaniasis, unlike necrotizing fasciitis, often won’t exhibit symptoms until weeks or months after infection. Raised, red lesions appear, and then burst. In cases where the lesions are diffuse, the condition can appear like leprosy. Mucous membranes can also be infected, resulting in the destruction of the nose and lips. The infection can be fatal if the parasite spreads to vital organs.
The leishmaniasis carrying sand flies are usually found only in tropical climates, but as global temperatures rise, the flies will be able to survive in countries that were never before suitable for them. Travel and tourism will also facilitate the spread of the parasite.
The disease is found in the Middle East, South Asia, North Africa, and Central and South America, and has even been reported in southern Texas and southern Europe. Soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq have been affected by the disease as well, with over 650 cases of the “Baghdad Boil” being reported since the invasion in 2003.
The moral here? It’s that flesh eating disease is exactly as gross as you imagined. And that you should wear plenty of insect repellent when sand flies are around.