Forget swine flu.
Raccoons — those masked garbage−looting miscreants who can be found scampering all over the borough if one looks hard enough — just became Brooklyn’s public enemy number 1.
City health officials are warning borough residents to be wary of raccoon roundworm, a rare but extremely dangerous disease that’s debilitated two borough residents in the last few months.
The two victims, a teenager and an infant, were both diagnosed with baylisascariasis at the end of March, although the public was not alerted to the possible health threat until this week.
The health department wouldn’t say just where the two infected victims lived, although some published reports inferred that at least one of the children may have been from Bay Ridge.
An individual comes down with baylisascarlasis, otherwise known as raccoon roundworm B procyonis, after ingesting worm eggs found in raccoon feces.
The eggs hatch into larvae two to four weeks after ingestion and travel through the liver, brain, spinal cord and other organs causing a host of symptoms from nausea, the enlargement of the liver to loss of muscle control and blindness, depending on the amount of worm eggs digested.
Raccoons ingest the worm eggs as they forage for food or eat rodents and other smaller animals that have already been infected.
Medical professionals said that while its common for raccoons, it’s rare for humans to ingest the lethal larvae. In fact, fewer than thirty cases have been reported, city officials said. Many of the cases involve children, because they have no compunction about putting soiled fingers in their mouths.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, fewer than 25 cases of raccoon roundworm had been diagnosed in the United States by 2003. Cases cropped up in New York, California, Oregon, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Five of the infected victims died.
Health officials said that the first case was a previously healthy infant who started suffering from seizures and developmental regression last October. The child, who routinely traveled upstate with his family, was diagnosed with raccoon roundworm, was treated with steroid therapy but did not improve.
The child remained in the hospital suffering from brain damage.
In the second case, a teenager suffered an acute onset of blindness in the right eye this past January.
The teen did not leave New York City in the two to four weeks it took the larvae to hatch in his system. The larvae, officials said, was found behind his damaged eye.
While doctors managed to eradicate the larvae with laser therapy, the teen remains blind in one eye, officials said.
Health officials recommend that residents, especially children stay away from raccoons or in areas where raccoons do their business, it’s a bit harder than one might think.
Over the past year, there have been several raccoon sightings throughout southern Brooklyn, as well as downtown Brooklyn, where a budding videographer caught one of the beasties foraging for food in both in Cobble Hill.
Residents have also complained to the New York Times about a proliferation of raccoons in Greenwood Cemetery.