Researchers at the University of Florida have confirmed the existence of a deadly parasite in three species of snails that have colonized South Florida. The parasite found in Florida snails is the rat lungworm and it can make people as well as animals and birds very sick.
Angiostrongylus cantonensis, or the rat lungworm, was found in three out of five species of snails in Florida. The study that found the worm was prompted by the death of an orangutan. The ape became sick after eating infected snails and was treated at the University of Florida. The results of the study were published in the Journal of Parasitology.
Until now, the parasite was known to only be established in Hawaii, so this is the first time it was found in the continental Unites States.
Lead author of the study and assistant professor of parasitology at Florida’s college of Veterinary Medicine, Heather Walden, revealed that determining the geographical distribution of this rare parasite in Florida is extremely important due to the hazards it poses to human health.
The snails feed on exotic plants and Florida’s big horticulture industry increases the risk of infected snails getting into new gardens and new parts of the country. Walden stated that most of the snails that were hosts for the parasite are invasive and feed on ornamental or shelter plants which have the potential for distribution in the state of Florida and other areas of the U.S.
The parasite found in Florida snails poses a very high health risk as it invades the brain tissue of humans, animals and birds and causes an infection that is sometimes fatal. The rat is the main target for these snails and humans are just incidental hosts. With proper precautions, infection can be easily avoided.
How can you avoid getting the parasite? Walden says that people should avoid eating raw or undercooked snail. As the parasite can infect other species, such as crustaceans and frogs, those will also need to be cooked properly.
As long as food is cooked and you wash your produce, you will most likely never ingest it.
The state of Florida is especially populated with species that are non-native. It is because the state’s warm climate facilitates the thriving of non-native species.
Image Source: Hawaii Nature Journal