Brain-infecting parasite spreads in Florida


Rat lungworm

A parasitic worm infects people’s brains has been found throughout Florida. The parasite, called rat lungworm, living in rats and snails in five Florida counties. The researchers warned that the parasite typically found in the tropics and recently appeared in the continental United States.

Researchers said that the parasite’s apparent ability grows in areas outside historical range is alarming, and as average temperatures rise with climate change. The parasite will likely spread into more temperate areas.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the parasite carries out its life cycle in rats, snails and slugs. People can become infected if they eat raw or undercooked snails or slugs, or if they eat contaminated produce.

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In people, the rat lungworm can infect brain and cause meningitis. Infected people may experience headaches, neck stiffness, nausea, vomiting, and abnormal sensations in their arms and legs.

There is no specific treatment for the disease. The parasites cannot mature or reproduce in humans and will die eventually. Supportive treatment and pain medications can give to relieve the symptoms, and some patients treated with steroids. The researchers called for increased awareness of this parasite to help prevent infection and properly identify infected patients.

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The parasite in Florida is something that needs to be taken seriously, said, Heather Stockdale Walden, from University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.

Previous studies have found the parasite in snails in Florida. In new study, the researchers analyzed more than 1,500 samples from rats and snails in 18 countries throughout Florida. The investigators found that samples from five counties tested positive for the parasite. But, the parasite is likely even more widespread than in the study.

Walden said, the scientists may have had more positive results if they tested more samples from these species. The reality is that it is probably in more countries than we found it in, and also probably more prevalent in the southeastern U.S.

To prevent angiostrongyliasis, don’t eat raw or undercooked snails or slugs, and make sure to wear gloves and wash hands. Teach children not to eat raw snails and wash hands after handling snails. The CDC advises against eating raw or undercooked snails and slugs.

More information: [PLOS ONE]