Rare, Dangerous Parasite Infecting Florida Snails

First Posted: Feb 26, 2015 06:28 PM EST

University of Florida scientists have discovered a rare but invasive and dangerous parasite in Giant African Land Snails, as well as three other non-native species of snails, that could pose a serious health problem in humans as well as animals.

The parasite, also known as "rat lungworm" has been found throughout the species of snails in the Miami area.

The news of the discovery, published in the Journal of Parasitology, discuses the investigation of the death of an orangutan that died after eating one of the snails. It was the second to die from ingesting an infected snail in Florida since 2004.

The deadly parasite, known as Angiostrongylus cantonesis, has been a public health concern in Hawaii and throughout Asia, as well as Louisiana. It's becoming increasingly common in parts of the U.S. where warmer temperatures are regular.

"It's taken hold in the most consistently warm parts of the U.S.," Robert Cowie, a research scientist at the University of Hawaii, said via NBC Miami. "People are becoming more aware of it and scientists are looking for it and finding it."

Once consumed, the parasite eats away at the body's nervous system until it eventually dies. In more severe cases, an infection can be fatal. However, it is more likely to cause severe headache, or in some instances, paralysis.

Health officials note that the issue is particularly dangerous for dogs and other animals who may mistakenly eat them.

"If you know you have a snail problem, try to keep your pet away from that area," Walden added. 

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