In Florida, there is a growing worry to add to Zika infested mosquitoes, invasive giant snakes making mean hybrids, and poisonous lionfish stabbing divers. The deadly, subtropical nematode known as the rat lungworm (A. cantonensis) has been found in 5 counties in Florida. When ingested by humans the worm is known to invade the brain, causing infection and even leading to death.
The reason, according to scientists, that this worm has spread from its normal subtropical areas like Hawaii, and moved to the Southern states, appears to be — you guessed it — climate change.
“The parasite is here in Florida and is something that needs to be taken seriously,” said study lead author Stockdale Walden in a statement. “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 US than we think. The ability for this historically subtropical nematode to thrive in a more temperate climate is alarming.”
The worm relies on two species to spread, snails and rats — joy, right? — and humans get it by ingesting infected critters, or even infected slime from infected snails. The infected snails, which can hide among your veggies and lettuces, are consumed by hungry rats which spread the lungworm through their droppings, which snails eat. All species of snails and some frogs and crustaceans can contract the parasite.
According to the CDC, we have no treatment for the resulting infection, which is called Angiostrongylus Infection. Signs of infection in adults include headaches, stiff neck, fever, vomiting, nausea, and paralysis of the face and limbs. Children’s symptoms are a little more generic, they exhibit nausea, vomiting and fever. The infection is not always deadly but can cause a form of meningitis. Severe infections can cause coma and death.
This parasitic nematode is endemic to Hawaii, where the number of cases has skyrocketed from 2 in the last 20 years to 6 in the last few months. In addition to Hawaii, the lungworm has now been found in California, Alabama, Louisianna and across the state of Florida. But, there is another problem. As this potentially deadly, infectious parasite moves through its new territory, which looks increasingly like climate change has allowed it to do, it is finding new species which it can infect:
“There are a lot of snail species endemic to South Florida that don’t occur anywhere else, and the last thing you want to do is throw one more problem their way. Rat lungworm is finding a whole new pool of animals to infect. The more species it infects, the larger its population can be, which could make transmission even easier.”
There are more tips for prevention, here, but one of the biggest things we could do would be to fight the cause of this parasite’s spread. With an executive branch that is pulling us out of the Paris Climate Accord, stripping down regulations that protect our planet, and who has maligned “climate change” as a conspiracy theory, that is going to be very difficult.
Call your Congressional representatives today, or text the Resistbot for help doing so, and let them know. We need single payer healthcare, everyone deserves a good education, we want the EPA and National Parks funded, and we want them to fight climate change.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons, juvenile root nematode, altered
*The description of this article was updated to clarify the information. There are no infections reported in Florida.