Rat Lungworm is a parasite that can cause meningitis in humans and animals. Recent studies and reports have confirmed it is spreading throughout the state of Florida and Health officials now fear it is most likely present in other southern states.
Rat Lungworm, which was native to Hawaii and tropical locations, was found in rats and snails from 18 counties around the state of Florida. What’s worse? Studies show it has the ability to survive in other climates as well.
University of Florida researchers call their latest findings “alarming.”
The UF study, which was published in PLoS ONE, which used samples from many Florida counties including Hillsborough, Orange, Alachua, St. Johns and Leon; all tested positive for the parasite.
Heather Stockdale Walden, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor in the University of Florida department of infectious disease and pathology, told the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine’s website:“THE REALITY IS THAT IT IS PROBABLY IN MORE COUNTIES THAN WE FOUND IT IN, AND IT IS ALSO PROBABLY MORE PREVALENT IN THE SOUTHEASTERN U.S. THAN WE THINK,” “THE ABILITY FOR THIS HISTORICALLY SUBTROPICAL NEMATODE TO THRIVE IN A MORE TEMPERATE CLIMATE IS ALARMING.”
What you should do if you think you have Rat Lungworm:
Head to your physician if you think you could be infected.
Those who experience symptoms may develop eosinophilic meningitis. According to the CDC, individuals can suffer from headache, stiff neck, tingling or painful feelings in the skin, low-grade fever, nausea and vomiting. Symptoms can last from 2-8 weeks and may resolve without treatment over time, although a failure to diagnose the infection may lead to serious complications or even death.
While there have not been any confirmed human cases reported in Florida, researchers are calling for more reliable diagnostics tests and a greater awareness among physicians and veterinarians.
Here’s why you should be concerned:
Rat lungworm can cause severe gastrointestinal or central nervous system issues in humans and animals, including livestock or pets.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the adult form of the parasite is only found in rodents which pass larvae of the parasite in their feces. It can be transmitted to snails and slugs that ingest the larvae.
The risk to humans highest through eating raw or undercooked snails (escargot) or slugs that are infected, or freshwater shrimp, crabs or frogs that are infected with larvae.
It can also be transmitted through raw produce that contains a small snail or slug. The parasite cannot be transmitted from human-to-human, and not all who are infected will develop complications.
The CDC recommends thoroughly washing vegetables and to avoid ingesting raw or undercooked slugs or potentially contaminated produce in areas where the parasite is known to be found.
Protect your pets
While concerns of new studies focus on humans contracting Rat Lungworm, dogs have been known to be susceptible for quite some time.
Animals consuming rats or their feces or snails or slugs carrying the parasite can become infected.
To protect pets and livestock, be mindful of snails in animals’ living spaces. Check watering troughs for snails that might have fallen in and monitor animals for snail-eating habits.
Infection with rat lungworm can also cause meningitis in animals, as well as limb weakness or paralysis, neck pain and central nervous system problems.
Managing rat populations could help curtail the parasite in facilities that house animals.
Above all, contact your pet’s veterinarian if you think your pet could be infected.