Rat lungworm parasite found in 5 Florida counties, including St. Johns
Rat lungworm parasite found in Florida
The rat lungworm parasite can end up in slugs.
The INSIDER Summary:
- Scientists have detected rat lungworm, a parasite, in certain Florida counties.
- The parasite is typically passed from rats to snails and slugs.
- Itcancause serious infections in humans, but no human cases have been recorded in Florida so far.
- Humans can get the parasite by eating raw or undercooked snails or slugs.
- Officials have advised Floridians to wash their hands and their produce, since small snails or slugs may end up on fruits or vegetables.
In recent weeks, bone-chilling headlines have declared that a "brain-infecting," "potentially deadly" parasite is spreading across Florida. Technically, that's true: A parasite called rat lungwormhasbeen found in the Sunshine State, and if the parasite infects a human, it may lead to rare type of fatal meningitis.
Sounds disgusting — and terrifying— but for now there's no cause for full-scale panic.
To date there are no reports of humans being infected with rat lungworm in Florida — only rats, snails, and slugs are harboring the parasite. And though the infection has been transferred to humans in other parts of the world, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that most people who get the infection actually recover without treatment.
Still, officials in Florida have advised residents to take certain precautions, according to a report in the Orlando Sentinel. Here's everything you need to know.
Rat lungworm lives primarily in rats — no surprise there — but it can also be transferred to slugs and snails via rat feces.
In May, scientists in Florida published showing that they'd found rat lungworm living in rats, snails, and slugs in five counties: Orange, St. Johns, Alachua, Leon and Hillsborough counties. The study authors it may be even more widespread.
Snails are another carrier of the parasite.
The infection can be transferred to humans, according to the CDC, most commonly by eating raw or undercooked snails or slugs.
Sometimes people do this on purpose — as in 1993, when a Louisiana boy swallowed a slug on a dare and got infected — but sometimes it's accidental. Tiny snails and slugs sometimes end up on raw produce, and humans can ingest them without realizing it.
Rat lungworm infections are most commonly seen in parts of Asia and the Pacific Islands, the CDC says, but human infections have also been recorded in the Caribbean and Africa, and Hawaii.
It can have no symptoms and most cases resolve without treatment, though some can lead to swelling in the brain.
In humans, rat lungworm infection can have no symptoms, and most cases resolve without treatment because the parasite can't live very long inside the body, according to the CDC.
Also: The infection cannot be transmitted from person to person.
Snails and slugs may live on fresh produce.
But in some cases, rat lungworm infection can lead to eosinophilic meningitis, a rare condition that causes swelling in the brain and may result in coma, permanent disability, or death. Look out for symptoms like headaches, a stiff neck, tingling or painful in the skin, fever, nausea, and vomiting. The CDC says you should see your doctor if you think you may be infected with the parasite.
There are a few easy precautions you can take.
Florida health department officials told the Orlando Sentinel that people living in the state should do a few simple things to reduce their risk of picking up the parasite: Thoroughly wash hands and produce, avoid eating raw or undercooked local snails or slugs, and wear gloves when working in gardens or any other place where contact with snails, slugs, or rat feces is possible.
Video: Brain Infecting ‘Rat Lungworm’ Spreads in Florida
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