Scientists are warning that a parasitic brain worm that can be ingested through contaminated produce has been found in states around the Southeast.
Rat lungworm, Angiostrongylus cantonensis, is typically found in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more recently been identified in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida and Atlanta, Georgia.
While the parasite can infect humans, it cannot reproduce in the human body. It can, in some, cause severe symptoms.
Here, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is what we know about Angiostrongylus cantonensis?
What is Angiostrongylus cantonensis?
Angiostrongylus cantonensis is a parasitic worm of rats. It is also called the rat lungworm. The adult form of the parasite is found only in rodents.
How is Angiostrongylus cantonensis transmitted?
Infected rats pass larvae of the parasite in their feces. Snails and slugs get infected by ingesting the larvae. These larvae mature in snails and slugs but do not become adult worms. Rats eat infected snails or slugs and the larvae further mature to become adults.
Can people get infected with this parasite?
Yes. People can get infected, under unusual circumstances. However, even if infected, most people recover fully without treatment.
How can people get infected?
People can get infected by eating raw or undercooked snails or slugs that are infected with this parasite. People also can get infected by eating raw produce, such as lettuce, that contains a small snail or slug or part of one.
Certain animals, such as freshwater shrimp, crabs or frogs, have been found to be infected with larvae of the parasite. It is possible that eating undercooked or raw animals that are infected could result in people becoming infected, though the evidence for this is not as clear as for eating infected snails and slugs. Fish do not spread this parasite.
Can an infected person infect other people?
In what parts of the world have people become infected with this parasite?
Most of the known infections have been in parts of Asia and the Pacific Islands. Some have been in other areas of the world, such as in the Caribbean and Africa.
Have cases of this infection occurred in the United States?
Yes. Cases have occurred in Hawaii, and have been spotted in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida, “likely introduced by infected rats and gastropods [snails] through trade routes, such as on merchant ships,” Nicole Gottdenker told Newsweek. Gottdenker is an associate professor of anatomic pathology at the University of Georgia.
A case was recently seen in Atlanta.
What are the signs and symptoms of infection with this parasite?
Some infected people don’t have any symptoms — or have only mild symptoms that don’t last very long. Sometimes the infection causes a rare type of meningitis called eosinophilic meningitis. The symptoms can include headache, stiff neck, tingling or painful feelings in the skin, a low-grade fever, nausea and vomiting.
What should I do if I think I might be infected with this parasite?
You should see your health care provider.
Does infection with this parasite need to be treated?
Usually not. The parasite dies over time, even without treatment.
How can I keep from getting infected with this parasite?
Don’t eat raw or undercooked snails or slugs, frogs or shrimp. If you handle snails or slugs, wear gloves and wash your hands. Always remember to thoroughly wash fresh produce. When traveling in areas where the parasite is common, avoid eating uncooked vegetables.