The raccoon (Procyon lotor) is the definitive host of Baylisascaris procyonis, a large intestinal roundworm that is zoonotic and can result in fatal or severe central nervous system disease in young children. Prevalence of infection among raccoon populations often is high, and in the midwestern United States, B. procyonis has been reported in 68–82% of raccoons. Raccoon populations have increased in response to changes in human land use, and often reach higher densities in urban and suburban landscapes than rural landscapes. However, shifts in foraging behavior among urban raccoons could impact the transmission of B. procyonis if small vertebrate intermediate hosts are not a significant part of the raccoon diet. The objective of this study was to compare prevalence of B. procyonis infection between urban and rural raccoon populations on a regional scale. Necropsy was done on 204 raccoons collected from September through February during 2000–2005 from seven states across the Midwest (regional sample). Baylisascaris procyonis was found in 54% of examined raccoons. Prevalence differed between land-use types (χ2=11.56, df=1, P=0.0007), and was higher among animals collected from rural locations (65%) than those collected in urban locations (41%). Intensity of infection also differed (F=5.52, df=1, P=0.02), with rural raccoons having greater worm burdens (x¯=29.63±36.42) than urban raccoons (x¯=13.85±18.47). Despite high densities of raccoons in urban landscapes, fewer urban raccoons were infected with B. procyonis, suggesting decreased dependence on intermediate hosts as a food source. This possible explanation was supported by a similar trend in prevalence among subsamples of raccoons collected from three Chicago-area populations (local samples) with differing levels of urbanization, population densities, and foraging behavior that had been intensively monitored during 1995–2002. Decreased transmission of B. procyonis in urban landscapes may be due to decreased predation of intermediate hosts, and contact of juvenile raccoons with B. procyonis eggs may be an important factor in maintaining infections within such populations.
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