An Overview of Angiostrongylus Cantonensis (Angiostrongyliasis)
Carried by rats, the Angiostrongylus Cantonensis is a parasitic worm. Ground mollusks such as slugs become infected with early forms of the parasite by consuming the infected feces of carrier rats. The Angiostrongylus Cantonensis develops further in the slugs and snails, reaching adulthood when the infected mollusks are consumed by rats, completing a cycle.
Fortunately, the Angiostrongylus Cantonensis poses little threat to human beings. Infection of human beings is very rare and can occur from consumption of undercooked or raw infected slugs and snails. In some cases, a person may become infected by consuming produce that has not been adequately washed and therefore contains a slug or a snail. There have been no studies to determine whether or not the slime trail created by mollusks can be infectious to humans. Rarely, people may become infected with the Angiostrongylus Cantonensis by consuming undercooked or raw frogs, prawns, and crabs from fresh water sources.
The worm cannot be spread from person to person, nor can it be spread by handling contaminated feces of rats. This is because the parasite is too young while living in the feces. Symptoms of being infected by the Angiostrongylus Cantonensis do not last long at all and may manifest as headache, tingling sensations, stiffness in the neck, low fever, vomiting, nausea, or pain and discomfort in the skin. However, more often than not, an infected individual will experience no symptoms from an infection.
If you suspect that you have the infection with the Angiostrongylus Cantonensis, please consult a medical professional who will ask for information on how you may have been exposed to the parasite. Your healthcare provider may require blood tests and may also test for signs of meningitis. Infected individuals may experience eosinophilic meningitis but this is not a serious condition and often does not require antibiotics.
There is typically no need for special treatment for an infection with the parasite because it will die over time on its own. Symptoms of infection, if any, may last up to months, usually caused by the immune system’s natural response to the parasites dying off in the body. Fortunately, this infection usually has no cause for alarm.
There was a recorded case of an Angiostrongylus Cantonensis infection in the United States as recently as 1993. The patient was a young boy who swallowed a live snail. The boy suffered from stiffness, muscle pains, headache, a mild fever and some instances of vomiting. He did contract eosinophilic meningitis but was well in two weeks without any special treatment of the parasitic infection whatsoever.
The Angiostrongylus Cantonensis is more prevalent in the Pacific Islands as well as Southeast Asia. There have been known instances of the infection in the Caribbean as well. It is interesting to note that giant African land snails can become infected with Angiostrongylus Cantonensis because these snails can be found in the United States and are considered quite the pest to the agricultural industry for their insatiable eating habits and rapid reproduction. The United States requires a permit to own the giant African land snails for these reasons.
Infection of the Angiostrongylus Cantonensis can be prevented quite simply by not consuming undercooked or raw mollusks and certain types of fresh water frogs, prawns, or crabs. Properly wash any produce you consume to avoid accidental consumption of slugs and snails and take care to wear gloves if you are ever handling your pet giant African land snails.