Giant Snails Carrying Meningitis Are Causing Concern in Florida

A giant snail species prone to carrying the parasite that leads to meningitis has been found in an area of Florida, which is under quarantine as experts work to get rid of the invasive creatures.

Giant African land snails were found in the city of New Port Richey area, in Pasco County, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) confirmed on June 23.

The giant African land snail can grow up to 8 inches long as an adult and lay up to 2,500 eggs per year. The snails are an invasive species and can be damaging to ecosystems, as they are known for eating over 500 different plants as well as paint and stucco.

Giant African land snails have shown up again in an area of Florida. Above, Mary Yong Cong, a Florida Department of Agriculture scientist, holds one of the snails in her Miami lab on July 17, 2015. KERRY SHERIDAN/AFP via Getty Images

But one of the biggest causes for concern is the risk they pose to humans. The FDACS said on its website, "These snails could be devastating to Florida agriculture and natural areas as they cause extensive damage to tropical and subtropical environments.

"The snails also pose a serious health risk to humans by carrying the parasite rat lungworm, known to cause meningitis in humans," the FDACS added.

People are advised to wear gloves or other protective gear if they are handling the giant snails.

A quarantine zone was put in place on June 24, and the FDACS said its Division of Plant Industry would begin a treatment "for this detrimental pest" on Wednesday, using metaldehyde, a pesticide for snails and slugs. The pesticide will slow the snails' ability to move and digest food through dehydration until they begin to die out.

The quarantine period will last for two years. Those inside the designated zone will not be allowed to move any plants, soil, yard waste, debris, compost or building materials outside the zone, the FDACS said. It added that anyone who has spotted one of the snails should call the Division of Plant Industry's help line at 1-888-397-1517.

The species of snail was present in Florida in the 1960s and 1970s before being eradicated in 1975, the FDACS said. They were detected in 2011 in Miami-Dade County and eradicated again in 2021. To get rid of the snails, Florida has spent $24 million on research.

The FDACS told Newsweek that Florida is the only place in the world that has eradicated the snails.

"Without eradication, the giant African land snail could have resulted in major export and trade implications for our growers already struggling," Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said in a statement last October.

The snails caused significant damage in the Caribbean in 2018, spreading rat lungworm to tourists.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has previously warned that contracting rat lungworm can occur under strange circumstances. "In some cultures, snails are commonly eaten. Some children, in particular, have gotten infected by swallowing snails/slugs 'on a dare.' People also can get infected by accident, by eating raw produce (such as lettuce) that contains a small snail or slug or part of one," the CDC says on its website.

In one case, an Australian man ate a garden slug on a dare and died in 2018 from rat lungworm eight years after ingesting the creature.