Drawing of a raccoon eating a marshmallow
On August 24th, 2015 we learned about

Fighting blinding, deadly parasites with sweet, delicious marshmallows

There are so many reasons to avoid ingesting poop, some more compelling than others. Aside from humans not being coprophages, feces can sometimes carry fairly horrible parasites, capable of causing illness, blindness or even death, such as with Baylisascaris procyonis, found in raccoon droppings. While “avoiding eating raccoon poo” would seem like the obvious answer to this health risk, our surest bet might be to just starting feeding raccoons more spiked marshmallows.

The nematode B. procyonis, also known as “raccoon roundworm,” seems to be on neutral footing with raccoons while being horrible for just about everything else. Normally, the worms develop and reproduce in the raccoons digestive tract, passing to new hosts through contact with feces. However, in other animals, the larva will often eat through the gut wall and begin destroying other tissues, leading to things like larva migrans. If that wasn’t bad enough, they often migrate towards the host’s brain, affecting behavior and eventually causing death. It’s possible most cases of human infection never get to that stage, but those that do are usually in small children, raising our concerns to head off the nematodes as much as possible.

Inadvertent scat snacks

While most kids know not to go snacking on raccoon poop, as the poo breaks down they and their caretakers might not recognize potential risks. What looks like an “innocent” handful of dirt in a toddler’s mouth may still carry enough raccoon poo to transport the B. procyonis eggs, which have a frustratingly long shelf-life, long after the original feces have biodegraded.

The nematode’s eggs can lay dormant for up to 10 years, withstanding normal seasonal temperature shifts without a problem. They’ve also been found to be surprisingly impervious to cleaning agents like bleach, leaving people to look for more effective removal options. The most dramatic option has been to use a blowtorch on suspected raccoon latrines, or at least boiling water if fire isn’t an option. The newest strategy is a bit more gentle, looking to use dessert as a preventative measure instead.

Treats as treatment

Marshmallow creme laced with pyrantel pomoate, a deworming treatment, has been used as a drug delivery system to the raccoons, and it seems to be working. Baited areas saw a drop in infected poo, from 13% to 3%. This doesn’t mean your toddler should now dig into their sandbox, but it should continue to keep infections rate low, even as expanding human development puts us in more contact with raccoons.

Source: Drugged Marshmallows Can Keep Urban Raccoons From Spreading Disease by Alison Bruzek, Shots