The raccoon spreads dangerous diseases as it invades Europe

Aug 28, 2012
The raccoon spreads dangerous diseases as it invades Europe. Credit: F.J. García

Furry, agile, intelligent and voracious: the raccoon is far from being a cuddly toy, which is what many people believe when they get one as a pet. It is more like an invader that escapes and is able to adapt and survive in new habitats. According to a study, its expansion across Spain and Europe is bringing infectious and parasitic diseases like rabies. This puts the health of native species and people at risk.

Originating in North America, the raccoon (Procyon lotor) is an invasive species that has established itself in Europe due to hunting and the fur trade along with its acquisition as a pet. In Spain, its presence in the wild is already commonplace in Madrid and Guadalajara and is sporadic in other regions such as the island of Mallorca. Its presence is however far from welcomed.

"Due to its rapid expansion and the long list of illnesses that it may carry, it poses a health risk that we must bear in mind," as outlined to SINC Beatriz Beltrán-Beck, the lead author of the study published in the 'European Journal of Wildlife Research' and researcher at the Research Institute of Hunting Resources (IREC, joint centre of the University of Castilla-La Mancha, the CSIC, and Castilla-La Mancha Council).

Bearing in mind that its population density could exceed 100 raccoons per km2, the success of the expansion of this small opportunistic carnivore is down to its ability to quickly adapt to different surroundings and omnivorous food habitats, its high reproductive potential and the absence of .

However, as Beltrán-Beck points out, "the impact that their expansion and invasion could have on the environment and the health of and humans is unknown." The researcher adds that the increase in and expansion to other countries and/or could increase the transmission of dangerous parasites and illnesses to and humans.

The guest that nobody wants in their home

The research team gathered all types of information on the infectious and that raccoons can transmit. The aim was to assess the propagation risk of infections along with possible control methods. But, according to the author, "there is little data in Europe on this species".

Rabies and a very pathogenic parasite to man (Baylisascaris procyonis), which was found in Germany, are some of the most significant illnesses found in the raccoon. But, along with bacterial illnesses, these are added to the West Nile virus which affects human, birds, horses and sheep.

Although in Western Europe rabies have been eliminated thanks to the oral vaccination for foxes (Vulpes vulpes), there is still concern that the raccoon could complicate the situation in some areas of Eastern Europe that are still home to rabies. In recent years 142 cases of rabies in raccoons have been identified, above all in Ukraine, Estonia, Germany and Lithuania.

This small American has been confirmed to be the host of the nematode worm Baylisascaris procyonis, which is responsible for Larva migrans, an illness caused by larval migration and parasite persistence under the skin, in the brain and in other organs. In the past this disease could only be found in America but is now emerging and on the rise in Europe.

"The infected raccoons can scatter millions of nematode B. procyonis eggs, which cause significant environmental contamination," warn the scientists. In the USA, between 68% and 82% of mammals have this parasite. Prevalence is also high in Germany although in Japan, for example, the parasite was not detected in any of the 1,688 raccoons captured for the purposes of other studies.

According to Beltrán-Beck, "more epidemiological studies are necessary on the current health situation and the implementation of measures that limit the possible impact of invading ."

An unpleasant "pet"

Given its exotic origin and its rapid expansion since the 1970's, the raccoon is considered an in Europe. However, the majority of European countries, like Spain, do not control the trade of this animal, which is introduced onto the market as a pet.

"The case of Spain is a good example. The origin of its expansion is probably due to it escaping from the home where it was kept as a pet and due to the owners releasing it into the countryside when it reaches adulthood and becomes aggressive," adds the researcher.

According to the researcher, "this is mainly the case because there is a complete lack of knowledge of the biology, ecology, distribution and population density of the raccoon in Europe."

Explore further: Call for alternative identification methods for endangered species

More information: Beltrán-Beck B, García FJ, Gortázar C, (2012) "Raccoons in Europe: disease hazards due to the establishment of an invasive species", European Journal of Wildlife Research 58, pp 5

García JT, García FJ, Alda F, González JL, Aramburu MJ, Cortés Y, Prieto B, Pliego B, Pérez M, Herrera J, García-Román L, (2012) "Recent invasion and status of the raccoon (Procyon lotor) in Spain", Biological Invasions, DOI 10.1007/s10530-011-0157-x

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User comments : 7

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ValeriaT
3 / 5 (2) Aug 28, 2012
It may appear like the reductio ad Hitlerum, but raccoons in Germany are the product of Nazi. Hermann Göring, who was a passionate hunter introduced six animals near Kassel in 1934. Today the Germany is occupied with nearly one millions of raccoons, which are expanding into the rest of Europe.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.9 / 5 (23) Aug 28, 2012
This is simple. Just call them pandas and everybody will love them.
Estevan57
1.8 / 5 (29) Aug 28, 2012
With so many millions of raccoons, and such rapid growth, it is inevitable that there is a religious raccoon edict promoting large litters, and warfare will soon ensue. It is The Plan as ordained by the High Priest of raccoons, or Otto. It is Their Way.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (22) Aug 28, 2012
With so many millions of raccoons, and such rapid growth, it is inevitable that there is a religious raccoon edict promoting large litters, and warfare will soon ensue. It is The Plan as ordained by the High Priest of raccoons, or Otto. It is Their Way.
This would be similar to the way you propagate lying dimwit sockpuppet varmints wouldnt it Pirouette/ritchieguy/russkiye/estevan/pussycat/obie/uratard/jewzrule/theotherotto/thatsallicanremember

-See the thread:
http://phys.org/n...new.html

-for pretty convincing evidence. What IS the matter with you?
Estevan57
1.9 / 5 (26) Aug 28, 2012
I see no convincing evidence at all. A link to another post with the same imaginary crap is just more crap.

If you wish to link me with those other people go ahead, but since I am the subject at hand, I suppose I would know best. Yes?

Since I have been in posts at the same time as you and Pussycat, I would probably rule that one out.

Sockpuppets are YOUR game Otto. Or should I say - Otto1923, TheGhostofKwasniczJ, SoulmanOtto, Otto_the_Magnificent, Empire_man_otto, diaper_dog_dick, ottoisasciencegroupie, OttoTheMasturbator, dumdogslickthemselves, dick_loves_otto, THE_ANTIPHILO, CardacianNeverid, pluton
and others.
Have a nice day.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.1 / 5 (21) Aug 29, 2012
Dear pussycat_lies
Since I have been in posts at the same time as you and Pussycat, I would probably rule that one out.
And you would probably think that posting under 2 different sickpuppets in the same thread was a clever way of allaying suspicion. It's not. More evidence that you are consistently un-clever. Like when you try to argue that human birth is no more painful than guppies or frogs, or that zero growth requires zero births, or that Spain is on the equator, or that boomerangs can be cast in wax molds, or that NASA pictures show proof of 900 ft tall pronated Martians or that...

Oh and most of those sockpuppets are not me. Obviously. But yours are busy downrating many people and talking to each other. Why? What's the point of displaying how SICK you are?
Estevan57
2 / 5 (28) Aug 29, 2012
Otto, who are you talking to? Yourself?
Spiro Agnew. Spiro Agnew. Spiro Agnew.

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