African Land Snails, Which Forced Florida Community to Quarantine, Pose Serious Threat to Humans, Expert Says
Giant African land snails originally came from west-central Africa. They arrived in other parts of the world by hitch-hiking on potted plants, according to University of Florida Professor and Nuisance Wildlife Management Expert, Dr William Kern.
Florida is already full of terrifying animals and critters that regularly wreak havoc on residents. Now, one county in the Sunshine State is battling massive invasive snails. African land snails, which can grow to be the size of a human hand, were recently detected in the New Port Richey area of Pasco County, according to Metro.
Afterward, the area quickly entered into quarantine.
Giant African land snails originally came from west-central Africa. They arrived in other parts of the world by hitch-hiking on potted plants, according to University of Florida Professor and Nuisance Wildlife Management Expert Dr. William Kern.
“It's a really bad problem in Hawaii throughout the Caribbean. And then also in Florida, periodically,” he told Inside Edition Digital. “They are extremely destructive to horticultural crops. To some extent, they can do damage to landscape.”
He also notes that the snails are an intermediate host for rat lungworm.
“The rat eats a snail, and it ingests the infective — so it ingests the immature worm,” he said. “The immature worm moves through, gets into the bloodstream and then ends up in the lungs. So there, it will go ahead, and it will produce eggs, and the eggs are excreted in the feces of the rat. The snails eat the rat feces. The eggs hatch and they become infected with the juvenile worm. And then the rat eats the snail, and the process continues.”
When humans ingest these mollusks or their slime, it leads to problems.
“If people eat that with their salad,” Kern said, “then they can become infected. If it gets into people because we are not the right host, it gets lost. And so, instead of ending up in the lungs, it will end up inside the eyeball. It will end up inside the brain, and when it gets into the brain, it causes meningitis.”
To avoid rat lungworm, people should take the time to wash and cook food properly. Kern said commercially-produced salad mix should already be thoroughly cleaned. But with home produce, it needs a good rinsing. For cooked food, the heat will kill the rat lungworm.
People should also avoid handling the snails, Kern stressed.
“Well, I normally recommend wearing gloves,” he said. “The infectious stage of the worm can't penetrate the skin. But if you happen to have any cuts or scrapes on your hand, there's a possibility.”
Overall it’s best to be cautious, and homeowners who see the snails should notify the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Division of Plant Industry to assist.
It's also important to control the rat population in areas with African land snails.
“The other thing that we recommend is for homeowners to make sure that they keep roof rats in the neighborhood under control,” Kern noted. “And that can either be with trapping in houses or bait stations, poison bait stations. We want to try to break the life cycle in all the places where it's susceptible. So control the snails, control the rats. And if you do that, you control the rat lungworm.”
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