Lost and found: helminths infecting invasive raccoons introduced to Italy.
North American raccoons (Procyon lotor) have been introduced to several European countries, where they may represent a sanitary threat as hosts of several pathogens such as the zoonotic ascarid Baylisascaris procyonis. We carried out parasitological analysis on raccoons introduced to Italy to verify whether the species had carried along B. procyonis or any other gastro-intestinal helminths that may threaten humans, livestock or native wildlife. We examined 64 raccoons culled in Northern Italy during control activities and 3 roadkills opportunistically sampled from a separate population located in central Italy. Helminths were collected from the gastro-intestinal tract through standard parasitological techniques and identified based on a combination of morphology and molecular methods. Overall, examined raccoons showed a poor parasitic fauna, with almost 30% of individuals free of any helminth infection. The most prevalent species were the nematodes Strongyloides procyonis (26.9%), Aonchotheca putorii (25.4%) and Porrocaecum sp. (19.4%). Plagiorchis sp. trematodes were also common (13.4%), whereas cestodes were scarcely represented. With the exception of S. procyonis introduced from North America, all the other identified taxa have either a Eurasian or a wide Holarctic distribution. Despite not finding any B. procyonis in the examined raccoons, passive surveillance for this parasite should be implemented, especially in Tuscany, since the limited host sample examined in the present survey does not allow to exclude its presence.