Think you’re at the top of the food chain? This story will make you wonder.
When you think of being the prey, your mind instantly thinks of the obvious: cougars, wild borers, bears, snakes, etc. Yet there is a much more common creature out there that is just as dangerous, if not more so. The parasite.
Yes, we all know to wash our hands and cook food thoroughly, but even that isn’t always enough. Usually an infection will come from ingesting contaminated food or water, but some types of worm larvae can make their way inside you through just skin contact or inhaling a breath near a source of the microscopic eggs. Others cannot always be destroyed with soap, and for some there are no treatments as they eat your eyes and brain tissue.
Scared yet? You should be, because until you learn how to take precautions you can easily fall victim to one of these types of creatures.
Earlier this year I unfortunately was one of these victims, and I’m here to share my experience. I know first hand the dangers of raccoon worms. My experience started back in November before I learned about any of these potentially dangerous parasites.
Like most hunters, I had always caught and killed animals without a worry in the world, but one weekend something went wrong. Not wrong with the hunting, as I had killed a 4-pointer, a doe, three rabbits and a raccoon while bow hunting on Three Rivers WMA. Also, I had brought some wild turkey and hog meat to cook while at the camp. It was one of the best weekends of the season, but by the next week I was in severe stomach pain.
As an extremely healthy person who hasn’t gotten sick or seen a doctor in over a decade, I began to worry. Some of my clients who are doctors and nurses ruled out a common stomach virus, food poisoning or heartburn. When the condition continued to worsen and led to internal bleeding and pain so bad that it left me unable to even walk at times, I realized it was probably a parasite from something over the weekend.
I couldn’t recall how well I cooked all the food or if I washed my hands thoroughly enough. I remember putting the coon and rabbits in my hunting bag, along with my hunting snacks, and then putting the cleaned animals in the same big ice chest with my food. I had forgotten all my cleaning gloves back at the house. Wow, I make some mistakes and had no clue how I got sick.
I got on a common parasite prescription medication called mebendazole. It helped for about a week, but then my condition worsened again over the following two weeks as the parasite fought back for round two. Constant nausea and splitting headaches started, as well as the ever-present stomach pain. I had to take motion sickness medicine just to make a 10-minute drive to work everyday, not to mention how tough it was to train people at this time.
I started reading about the coon worm and other serious parasites. Then, I really became worried, not knowing if I had the untreatable worm that could kill me. Watching the show “Monsters Inside Me” always gave me the heebie-jeebies, but when you realize the show has now become your life, you really get freaked out.
The raccoon worm (baylisascaris porcinis) can be found in the 40 to 60 percent of adult coons and 90 to 95 percent of juvenile coons. Human infection is a rare condition that sometimes results in death, but I’m sure many people have suffered from a mild infection without ever knowing about it.
A person can be infected by ingesting or inhaling the tiny, sticky eggs that have an almost indestructible coating. The coating is resistant to soap, and even washing with bleach will not kill the egg. Heat can surely kill them, which is why the animal is still safe to eat. It is recommended to use boiling lye or a propane torch to clean contaminated areas.
The eggs are deployed by the millions in the droppings, and can remain active for years. Some coons that have a bad infection will walk around really slowly and appear sick because the worms get in the coon’s muscles. Avoid these coons.
Four weeks after entering a person, the eggs hatch into larvae that migrate into a person’s brain, eyes and spinal cord. The extent of the damage is relative to where the larvae attack and how many hatch, but the damage is permanent. The real problem is that there aren’t any good tests to discover this infection, so a victim will only know a couple months later when they start getting migraine headaches or start losing vision.
Yes, there is a treatment, but only for the raccoon. There is no medicine that’s effective in killing the larvae in humans. Lasers can sometimes be used to remove visible larvae in the eye.
The emotional trauma and nightmares were for me just as bad as the physical pain, but I really wasn’t sleeping much due to hunger; I could never get full, and was eating as much as I could every hour, although every time I ate my stomach hurt. I had no energy and was losing weight.
I quickly got some blood work done, along with a write-up for another stronger prescription medicine. But none of the pharmacies had this medicine because they usually only keep it stocked in third-world countries.
The blood work said my liver enzymes were off the charts. I was getting eaten alive from the inside and couldn’t find the medicine I needed. Things were starting to look grim.
Luckily, one out-of-town place where the pharmacist had recently visited Haiti in the earthquake relief had the medicine, Albendazole. This one did the trick and killed the parasite for good, or so I hoped.
Two days after finishing the cycle of medicine, I entered a 5K road race in Nola to see if I was really cured. Eighteen minutes later a first-place victory solidified the fact that I defeated not only the racing competition but, more importantly, the internal critter for good. I quickly got my weight back to 200 pounds, along with my energy and strength, rechecked my blood work that was back to normal and had all the other tests the doctor performed come up negative. My stomach still hurt for two more weeks as it slowly healed.
Through this experience I had not missed a single day of work, deer hunting or workouts because I always have the positive attitude that nothing can stop me. A good mental mindset and having support from my friends is what helped me get through. But I now have a newfound respect and understand for dangerous parasites, along with a renewed commitment to have plenty of antibacterial soap, hand sanitizer and cleaning gloves in my vehicle, boat and camper.
Tune in next week when I discuss some other parasites found in Louisiana’s wild animals and cover some of the preventative measures to ensure you don’t become a victim of the raccoon worm or any other creepy crawly.