Rat Lungworm Found Throughout Florida Say Scientists

Posted on June 28, 2017

Researchers from the University of Florida have discovered that rat lungworm can be found throughout Florida. The noodle-like organisms pictured in the above photo are adult rat lungworms emerging from the pulmonary artery of a rat. The parasitic worm can cause meningitis in humans and animals.

Rats and snails in five Florida counties - Alachua, Leon, St. Johns, Orange and Hillsborough - tested positive for the parasite. The rat lungworm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis) relies on rat and snail hosts to complete its lifecycle but can pose a health risk to humans and animals that ingest infected snails. Rat lungworm has been a problem in Hawaii for years. A report in Honolulu Magazine talks about how humans can get infected from raw produce contaminated by snails. The fatality rate is low in humans but it can cause eosinophilic meningitis and ultimately coma or death if it becomes trapped and dies in a human brain. There is no cure for the infection. A frightening report in The New York says caseloads are growing in Hawaii. There have already been 16 serious cases recorded so far this year.

Heather Stockdale Walden, an assistant professor in the UF department of infectious diseases and pathology and lead author of the study, says, "The parasite is here in Florida and is something that needs to be taken seriously. 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."

The scientists say the rat lungworm is a tropical parasite and its range could spread as average temperatures rise due to climate change. A research paper on the study was found here in the journal, PLOS One.

Image: Heather Stockdale Walden

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