Rat Lungworm Spreads In Florida

First Posted: Jun 29, 2017 06:34 AM EDT

A new parasitic worm has been found in Florida. Researchers said the parasite is called a rat lungworm, which lives in rats and snails in Florida and can cause infections in people's brains.

According to Live Science, the rat lungworm was previously seen in Southern Florida, and the study is the first one to show just how damaging it is to people across the state. The researchers said that the parasite, which can usually be found in the tropics, recently appeared in the continental United States, where it is expected to continue spreading.

Human cases of rat lungworm is not new. In fact, they were known to have occurred in Hawaii for over 50 years, but did not make it to the continental United States until the mid-1980s. It first showed up in New Orleans, likely from the ships that arrived from areas already inhabited by rats. Later on, it also appeared in Louisiana and Texas.

Due to their nature, the parasites have an alarming ability to thrive in areas outside its historical range. The parasite is said to carry its life cycle in rats, snails and slugs. People can be infected by the disease if they eat raw or undercooked snails and slugs, or if they eat food that has been contaminated. Angiostrongylus cantonensis, as the parasite is known, can infect the brain and cause meningitis to those who have been infected. Other symptoms include headaches, neck stiffness, nausea, vomiting and abnormal sensations in their limbs.

A new study published in PLOS One found that rat and snail samples from Alachua, Leon, St. Johns, Orange and Hillsborough tested positive for the parasite, but it is likely to be more widespread. Researchers found that the parasite also does not seem picky about the types of snails it infects, which is why they recommend washing produce to prevent infections. Children should also avoid eating snails and remember to wash their hands after handling them.

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