New Brain-Infecting Parasite Already Found In 6 States And Spreading. What You Need To Know

If you aren’t already squeamish when it comes to rats or snails, then it might be time to rev up your fear of these little creatures. Especially if you are taking a trip to Florida. While normally seen as harmless, rats and snails are now known to be the carriers of a potentially deadly parasite.

A new study found that rat lungworm, which is a brain-infecting parasite is spreading throughout Florida. It is carried in snails and has the potential to cause meningitis in humans. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claims that it can cause an array of symptoms such as headaches, nausea, vomiting, neck stiffness, and abnormal sensations in addition to infecting the brain. While rare, the parasite has caused neurological problems and even death. Infection is spread by consuming animals and being exposed to the parasite.

The rat lungworm is a parasite that lives in rats and snails. Here, adult rat lungworms (the noodle-like organisms in the center of the photo) emerge from the pulmonary artery of a rat.
Credit: Heather Stockdale Walden

The University of Florida recently conducted a study and discovered that rat lungworm could be found in rats and snails living in five northern and central Florida counties. It has already been found in southern Florida, so this is some scary evidence that the parasite can spread.

Rat lungworm is already found in Louisiana, Hawaii, and Texas and it has the potential to spread throughout the United States. While no cases have been reported in Florida yet, for fifty years there have been cases reported in Hawaii. At first, it was thought that the parasite thrived in tropical climates, however; the fact that it was found in northern Florida proves that it can survive in more temperate regions.

The key to preventing yourself from being a victim of this parasite is to be aware.

“The parasite is here in Florida and is something that needs to be taken seriously,” Heather Stockdale Walden, the study’s lead author.”The reality is that it is probably in more counties than we found it in, and it is also probably more prevalent in the southeastern U.S. than we think.”

One way that ensures prevention is to wash your produce thoroughly before consuming it. Small snails have a tendency to hide in lettuce leaves and are often missed by the human eye. Children should be educated on the importance of not consuming raw snail, frogs, and crustaceans. While this may sound bizarre, many children like to experience with things and have been known to put these types of creatures in their mouths. It’s not uncommon for a toddler to pick up a snail at the park and toss it around or put it in their mouth. Just touching these slimy shelled creatures could pose problems and cause infection if they put their hands in their mouth afterward.

While it’s important to teach your human family members prevention, it is also important to protect your furry family members. Always be on the lookout for snails in water bowls and drinking troughs. Also, keep an eye on livestock and pets and make sure they don’t have any snail-eating habits. Oftentimes, animals don’t realize what they are eating and just assume that something is a piece of food.

Credits: awm