It’s perfect viral fodder: First an unusually large stucco-snarfing snail shows up unexpectedly in someone’s Texas garden, then the words “invasive,” “meningitis” and “deadly” start circulating with gusto.
In more mundane reality, a gardener in Houston recently discovered what’s sometimes referred to as a giant African land snail (scientific name Achatina fulica) in her yard. The snails, which can measure up to three inches in height and eight inches in length, often host a variety of parasites, including a critter called Angiostrongylus cantonensis, more commonly known as “rat lungworm” because it tends to lodge in the pulmonary arteries of rats. If humans contract this particular parasite, they can develop something called eosinophilic meningitis.
Well, for starters, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, humans tend to be infected only “under unusual circumstances” — namely consuming infected snails raw or undercooked. Even then, the CDC says, “most people recover fully without treatment” and notes:
The parasite dies over time, even without treatment. Even people who develop eosinophilic meningitis usually don’t need antibiotics. Sometimes the symptoms of the infection last for several weeks or months, while the body’s immune system responds to the dying parasites. The most common types of treatment are for the symptoms of the infection, such as pain medication for headache or medications to reduce the body’s reaction to the parasite, rather than for the infection itself. Patients with severe cases of meningitis may benefit from some other types of treatment.
Infections in the U.S. are particularly rare, too. As Discovery News notes, a boy contracted the parasite back in 1993 after swallowing a slug on a dare. He became ill, but recovered a few weeks later without special treatment. That said, the CDC advises common-sense sanitation measures: anyone that handles snails or slugs should wear gloves and wash their hands.
What of the snails themselves? Giant African snails are listed among the top 100 most invasive species in the world, potentially threatening Texas’ plants and crops as well as house owners, since it turns out these snails are rather fond of calcium-bearing stucco (it helps their shells). It’s not the first time a U.S. state has had to deal with the snails either: Florida’s been capturing up to 1,000 a week in recent months, and according to the Invasive Species Specialist Group, A. fulica threatened the Sunshine State back in 1969 and “would have caused an annual loss of USD 11 million … if its population had not been controlled.”