“It turns out raccoons are like the Typhoid Mary of wild animals,” said lead author Jeffrey Hall, a virologist with the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis.
“More diseases have been found in raccoons than pretty much any other wild animals. ... You name it, raccoons get it.”
Hall and his colleagues took blood samples from the mammals in a variety of locations across the country and tested them to see if there was evidence of antibodies to flu.
They found that the percentage of infected raccoons ranged from zero in Texas and California to nearly 13 percent in Colorado and 25 percent in Wyoming.
Hall writes in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases that raccoons could be among the hosts in which flu strains mutate to be able to infect humans and other mammals.
It has long been thought that pigs also play a pivotal role in developing hybrid flu viruses, which mutate and are spread to other animals through contact with the swines' bodily fluids.
Photo: Jeannot Olivet - iStockphoto