While no such cases have been confirmed before in Washington state, a King County toddler may have contracted a rare disease linked to raccoon droppings.

Share story

A King County toddler may have contracted a rare disease linked to roundworms found in raccoon droppings, according to health officials.

Samples of the child’s blood and spinal fluid are being tested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with results expected in two weeks. The toddler is at home, reported Public Health – Seattle & King County on Monday.

Only 29 cases of the Baylisascaris infection have been reported in the U.S. since 1973, none in Washington state.

The disease can only be contracted if people swallow dirt or materials contaminated with raccoon droppings that contain microscopic Baylisascaris roundworm eggs.

The eggs can hatch inside a person and travel through the body. The disease can be fatal if the roundworms enter a person’s organs. The worm’s larvae have a tendency to invade the spinal cord, brain and eye of humans, resulting in permanent neurological damage, blindness or death, according to the CDC.

It cannot be spread person to person.

Children are considered at the highest risk because they are more likely to put contaminated objects in their mouths, including dirt and sand.

To prevent infection, people are encouraged to wash their hands after playing or working outdoors. They should also avoid “raccoon latrines” or sites where raccoons deposit droppings.

Raccoon latrines are often flat and raised off the ground. Raccoons tend to prefer roofs, decks, unsealed attics, woodpiles, fallen logs and even sandboxes.

More tips on preventing the disease can be found on the websites of the CDC and state Department of Fish and Wildlife. King County also suggests precautions to use while cleaning up suspected raccoon latrines.