Every now and then you hear of the stories of dares, often drunken and foolish dares, to eat a slug. Not only is this extremely gross and disgusting, this is simply a bad idea and here’s why: the rat lungworm.

Slug Image/mvdvegt680

The rat lungworm,  or Angiostrongylus cantonensis is a parasite infection in rats where the worm matures. Mollusks like snails and slugs pick up Angiostrongylus larvae by ingesting them in rat feces.

Infection is by accidentally, or sometimes intentionally ingesting raw snails and slugs. Lettuce and other leafy vegetables may also be a source if contaminated by small mollusks. Eating raw or undercooked prawns and crabs that have ingested mollusks may also be a source of infection.

Many cases of rat lungworm are asymptomatic or showing just mild symptoms. However, rat lungworm can result in a very serious known as eosinophilic meningitis (since the spinal fluid may have a high percentage of eosinophils). The symptoms can include headache, stiff neck, tingling or painful feelings in the skin, brain swelling, low-grade fever, nausea, and vomiting. Symptoms may last for weeks to months. Deaths have been reported.

Since the parasite dies over time because it can’t mature and complete its life cycle in humans, treatment is usually not necessary. Usually treatment of symptoms; headache medicine and steroids are all that is needed. Anti-parasitic drugs are generally ineffective against the rat lungworm.

To avoid rat lungworm:
• Don’t eat raw or undercooked snails or slugs.
• Cook crabs and prawns to kill the larvae.
• Thoroughly clean lettuce and other produce.