Potentially deadly rat lungworm parasite found in Hillsborough County

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Researchers with the University of Florida have found a potentially lethal parasite in five Florida counties, including Hillsborough.

Rat lungworm can cause meningitis in humans and animals.

Researchers say snails and rats in Hillsborough County tested positive for the parasite. It was also found in Alachua, Leon, St. Johns and Orange Counties.

An assistant professor with the UF department of infectious diseases and pathology says the parasite is probably in more counties than the study found it in.

Rat lungworm can pose a serious health risk to humans and animals that ingest snails infected with the parasite. Frogs and crustaceans can also be infected and pose a risk to humans.

Researchers say the fatality rate of infection for humans is low, but it can cause eosinophilic meningitis if it gets trapped in the brain and dies. Severe infections can cause coma or death.

Signs of infection for adults include headaches, stiff neck, fever, vomiting, nausea and paralysis of the face and limbs. Nausea, vomiting and fever are the most common symptoms for children.

Here’s what researchers say you can do to help protect your family:

  • Wash produce: tiny snails can get into lettuce and other produce
  • Teach your children not to eat snails
  • Wash your hands and your child’s hands after handling snails
  • Watch for snails in the living space of your pets and livestock
  • Check watering troughs for snails

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