Teen Who Ate Garden Slug on a Dare Contracted Parasite and Is Now Quadriplegic

Here's why you should never eat slugs and snails. By Carla Isabel Ribeiro (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, a 19-year-old rugby player in Australia swallowed a garden slug during a drunken dare. The slug was infected with the rat lungworm parasite, causing the teen to develop a serious brain infection. Eight years later, the dare has left the teen a quadriplegic, and now the Australian government has cut his medical financial aid.

Sam Ballard unknowingly swallowed a slug infected with the parasite Angiostrongylus cantonensis, also known as the rat lungworm, The Daily Telegraph reported. The parasite caused Ballard to develop a serious brain infection called eosinophilic meningoencephalitis.

Ballard fell into a coma for 420 days and upon waking up was no longer able to use his limbs and required a feeding tube. The now 27-year-old requires constant care and attention. In September, his mother Katie Ballard received a text message from the Australian government informing her that they would be cutting his financial aid, Fox News reported.

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Australia's National Disability Insurance Scheme had originally declared Ballard to be eligible for $492,000 in aid, but upon a second review, declared he would only be allotted $135,000. Katie is now fighting to get her son the original amount, News.com.au reported.

Cases such as Ballard's are extremely rare. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rat lungworm parasite is found only in rodents. Snails and slugs can become infected by ingesting the parasite larvae in rodent feces. However, these insects act only as carriers. The larvae mature once the snail or slug is eaten by another rat. In rare cases, humans can also become infected by eating snails and slugs that are carriers for rat lungworm larvae. Human lungworm infections are usually found in cultures that may eat snails or slugs, or in small children who unknowingly swallow these backyard bugs.

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The CDC reports that most individuals who become infected with rat lungworm recover without ever needing any treatment. In addition, most humans do not even know they are infected, as the parasite usually has little or no symptoms in humans. It's not clear what caused Ballard's infection to be so severe, but eosinophilic meningoencephalitis is noted as an extremely rare side effect of rat lungworm infections.