We present the first demonstration of oral transmission of Trypanosoma cruzi to raccoons (Procyon lotor), a natural reservoir host in the United States, by ingestion of trypomastigotes and infected bugs, but not infected tissue. To investigate an alternative, non-vector–based transmission method, we tested the hypothesis that raccoons scavenging on infected hosts results in patent infection. Macerated tissue from selected organs infected with amastigote stages of T. cruzi was orally administered to experimental groups of raccoons (n = 2/group) at 2, 12, or 24 hr after collection of the tissue samples. Additionally, raccoons (n = 1) in control groups were inoculated intravenously or per os with trypomastigotes. To further elucidate transmission routes of T. cruzi to raccoons, infected Rhodnius prolixus were fed to raccoons (n = 2). Raccoons did not become infected after ingestion of amastigote-infected tissues as evidenced by negative polymerase chain reaction results from blood and tissue, lack of seroconversion, and negative parasitemias. However, per os transmission can occur by ingestion of the infective trypomastigote stage or infected reduviid bugs. We conclude from these findings that oral transmission of T. cruzi may be a route of infection for wildlife in sylvatic cycles, but the scavenging behavior of animals is not likely a significant transmission route.
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