Invasive poop-eating slugs potentially infecting Hawaiians with brain parasites

WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:

  • An invasive mixed-species of mollusk called semi-slugs are causing a terrifying neurological disease to spread, new research reveals.
  • A total of 82 cases of brain infection known as rat lungworm, have been reported.
  • Last year, a case involving a New York teen who returned from a family vacation to Hawaii in January and was found to have brain infection with the disease in mid-March.

An invasive mixed-species of mollusk called semi-slugs are causing a terrifying neurological disease to spread, according to a new study.

A total of 82 cases of brain infection have been reported. The infection is known as rat lungworm, from the parasite in Hawaii between 2007 and 2017, new research by the Aloha State’s health officials has revealed. The study is known to be the most comprehensive tally of reported cases to date.

The study says a number of victims include both locals and tourists, and likely underestimates the number of infections, as asymptomatic individuals may not report.

Last year, a case involved a New York teen who returned from a family vacation to Hawaii in January and was found to have brain infection with the disease in mid-March.

The research suggests the infections were likely caused by people eating mollusks that likely carry parasites. The mollusks are half snail and half slug — also known as the semi-slug. Cuban slugs, giant African snails and marsh slugs, researchers say. Other carriers of rat lungworm include published Monday in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

The disease starts as a parasitic nematode (angiostrongylus cantonensis) that lays eggs inside rats, which the rodents then poop out. Slugs and snails then eat the tainted feces, and rats then eat the snails and slugs, continuing the cycle and keeping the parasite alive.

According to Hawaii’s Disease Outbreak Control Division, humans can become infected “if they eat (intentionally or otherwise) a raw or undercooked infected intermediate host, thereby ingesting the parasite.” Drinking from a garden hose is one road to infection, Hawaii’s Department of Health specifically warns.

Some of those infected are asymptomatic, while others experience anything from mild discomfort to paralysis to — in two documented cases in the period researchers looked at in Hawaii — death.

In 2016, Hawaii established a task force to combat the potentially fatal disease. “There is no specific treatment yet identified for this disease, so finding the best ways to prevent its spread and educate the public is crucial,” the governor’s office said at the time.

 

Source: New York Post

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