Scientists in Florida have discovered that rat lungworm is prevalent in five counties, and the potentially fatal parasite may be expanding its geographical range on account of climate change, according to Gizmodo.
In the past 20 years only two cases of the disease, known as Angiostrongylus Infection, have been documented in Hawaii, where a similar outbreak occurred. But six cases have been reported in the last six months in that state.
The parasitic worm, which spreads through an “unholy” alliance between snails and rats, is not only endemic in Hawaii, but has been discovered in California, Alabama, Louisiana and in Florida, where it is believed the geographic extent is far greater than previously thought.
Both humans and other animals who eat snails pose a risk of being infected by rat lungworm, though fatality remain low.
However, the disease can cause meningitis. Severe infections can even lead to a coma, or death. Signs of infection in adults include headaches, stiff neck, fever, vomiting, nausea, and paralysis of the face and limbs. Children infected with the disease may exhibit nausea, vomiting and fever.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, there is no known cure or treatment for a rat lungworm infection.
Rat lungworm spreads when snails eat rat feces; the rats then consume the snails – and the process continues in a spiraling trend. Humans get infected when they knowingly or unknowingly eat an infected snail or consume frogs or crustaceans, which can also carry the disease.
The CDC recommends avoiding eating raw or undercooked snails, slugs and other possible hosts, and to consume raw lettuce only if it has been thoroughly washed or treated with bleach. Also, it is recommended to wear gloves and to wash hands when handling slugs or snails. Even with such preventative measures, it may not entirely eliminate the risk of infection.
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