Potentially deadly parasite found in 5 Florida counties

A parasite that is potentially fatal in humans has been found in five Florida counties, University of Florida researchers say.

The study published in PLOS one reported that rats and snails in St. Johns, Alacua, Leon, Orange and Hillsborough counties contained the rat lungworm parasite.

Rat lungworm, which originated in Hawaii, affects humans if they ingest infected snails, crustaceans, vegetables touched by infected slugs or come into contact with rat feces.

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The parasite can cause Eosinophilic meningitis if it travels and dies in the brain. Severe cases of the infection can cause coma or even death.

Symptoms of rat lungworm in adults are headache, stiff neck, fever, vomiting, nausea and numbness of the face and limbs. For children, the most common symptoms are nausea, vomiting and fever, according to researchers at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine and the Florida Museum of Natural History.

The fatality rate of rat lungworm is low, researchers said. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid consuming raw or under-cooked snails and vegetables that are not properly washed or cooked.

So why is this parasite showing up in the Sunshine State?

Authors of the study suggest that recent flooding in the Gulf Coast area might have increased snail activity, leading to more infections.

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