USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), acting on a tip, seized an adult giant African snail (GAS) and 284 juvenile snails from a residence on Long Island, New York on June 26.  The GAS is classified as a non-native invasive pest in this country.  The Long Island resident admitted that the adult snail was obtained from a seller in Georgia.

 giant African snail (GAS) Image/Video Screen Shot
giant African snail (GAS) Image/Video Screen Shot

APHIS officials contacted the Georgia-based seller and arranged an interview. The seller was found to possess 949 GAS, which he stated were originally purchased from a source in Great Britain and sent to the United States via mail. All snails were identified as GAS and seized. From information obtained from the seller, APHIS also seized a GAS in Indiana, one in Pennsylvania, and one in Albany, New York.  To date APHIS has seized 1,237 GAS from this incident.  All snails originating with the seller Georgia have been seized, though the investigation is ongoing.

In July, APHIS officials seized an additional 67 GAS from an individual who imported two baskets of snails from Nigeria into Los Angeles, California.  Two veterinary health certificates issued by an unknown entity accompanied the shipment stating the snails were free of communicable disease and fit for human consumption. However, it is illegal to possess, import or transit GAS into the United States without a permit from APHIS. Currently, no permits are being issued for GAS.

The GAS is one of the most damaging snails in the world because it consumes as many as 500 types of plants and can cause structural damage to plaster and stucco buildings. The snail is also a public health hazard as it can carry a parasitic nematode, Angiostrongylus cantonensis, that causes meningitis in humans. The GAS reproduces quickly, producing about 1,200 eggs in a single year. The GAS was first found in southern Florida in the 1960s, and it took 10 years and $1 million to eradicate it.  It was reintroduced in Florida in 2011, with eradication efforts still underway.

APHIS would like to remind everyone that it is illegal to keep or own this non-native invasive pest in the United States.  “Collectors and hobbyists should not purchase GAS.  When released into backyards and in communities they cause extensive and expensive damage. If anyone sees a giant African snail, please report it to your local or federal agriculture program office immediately,” said Wendy Beltz, Director of the Smuggling Interdiction and Trade Compliance (SITC) Program within APHIS. “SITC officials safeguard our agricultural resources by stopping the introduction, establishment and spread of animal and plant pests and noxious weeds in the United States and residents can really help in that regard by being observant and reporting anything unusual to APHIS.”

What is angiostrongyliasis?

It is an infection caused by the rat lungworm, Angiostrongylus cantonensis. This is aparasitic infection in rats where it matures. Mollusks like snails and slugs pick up Angiostrongylus larvae by ingesting them in rat feces.

How do people get this parasite?

Infection is by accidentally or 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.

What are the symptoms and disease?

Angiostrongylus cantonensis infection is usually asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic. Symptomsusually appear in 1-3 weeks. The most serious disease is eosinophilic meningitis. The symptoms can include headache, stiff neck, tingling or painful feelings in the skin, low-grade fever, nausea, and vomiting. The spinal fluid exhibits eosinophilia of over 20%. Deaths are sometimes reported.

Symptoms may last for weeks to months.

How is this infection diagnosed?

The presence of eosinophils in the spinal fluid and a history of eating raw snails suggest angiostrongyliasis. Finding the worms in spinal fluid or at autopsy is confirmation.

What about treatment?

Treatment is usually not necessary. The parasite dies over time since it can’t mature and complete its life cycle. Usually treatment of symptoms; headache medicine, steroids are all that is needed. Treatment with anti-parasitic drugs is generally ineffective against angiostrongyliasis. For more infectious disease news and information, visit and “like” the Infectious Disease News Facebook page

How do you prevent getting angiostrongyliasis?

Don’t eat raw or undercooked snails or slugs, cook crabs and prawns to kill the larvae and thoroughly clean lettuce and other produce. Looking for a job in health care? Check here to see what’s available