Raccoons have become native to our residential areas. They are considered potential vectors of disease. Two studies are dedicated to the health risk for humans.
The raccoon, originally from North America and now widespread in Germany, is considered an important potential vector of infectious disease-causing pathogens and parasites. As part of the joint project ZOWIAC (Zoonotic and Wildlife Ecological Effects of Invasive Carnivores), a team led by parasitologist Prof. Dr. Sven Klimpel has been investigating the potential transmission of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), West Nile virus (WNV) and Usutu virus, as well as the role of raccoons as intermediate hosts and hosts for ecto- and endoparasites.
Raccoons - also native to cities
Raccoons (Procyon lotor) are omnivores whose diet, depending on the season, consists of about 40 per cent plant and 60 per cent animal components - their high degree of skill even enables them to skin and consume animals that are inedible for native species, such as common toads, with corresponding effects on local amphibian populations.
Cities in particular offer an attractive diet for the animals with the characteristic black mask: Rubbish bins, compost heaps and gardens provide easily accessible food.
"Interactions between humans, domestic and farm animals and raccoons will inevitably increase."
Prof. Dr. Sven Klimpel of the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre Frankfurt, Goethe University Frankfurt and the LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics.
"This makes the mammal a potentially suitable zoonosis vector - a vector of infectious diseases that can be caused by bacteria, parasites or viruses, for example, and transmitted reciprocally between animals and humans," Klimpel further explains and continues: "Unlike farm animals, diseases of wild animals are only detected and monitored in exceptional cases and when they cannot be overlooked - such as avian flu or swine fever. In our two new studies, we targeted raccoons for their parasites as well as their potential as vectors of Corona and West Nile virus."
The two new studies were carried out by Klimpel and his team as part of the ZOWIAC collaborative project, which aims to investigate invasion processes of such alien and immigrant carnivores, their impact on native ecosystems, as well as the potential associated health risks for humans. "Invasive or alien species are characterised by a high degree of adaptability and rapid geographical spread, and may bring certain pathogens from their areas of origin to the newly colonised areas or be immune to pathogens present there," Klimpel explains the focus on invasive alien species.
You can find the entire press release here.