What Is Rat Lungworm? Here's What You Need to Know About the Disease Carried by New Guinea Flatworms in Texas
New Guinea flatworms are an invasive, parasite-carrying species.
Rat lungworm disease may not just be a problem in Hawaii anymore, now that the worms known to carry the parasite that causes rat lungworm disease (also called angiostrongyliasis) have turned up in a Texas yard.
Two weeks ago, a woman in Pearland, Texas found dozens of New Guinea flatworms slithering around her porch, according to the Houston Chronicle. Alarmed, she contacted the Texas Invasive Species Institute (TISI), which confirmed that the leech-like worms were New Guinea flatworms.
While there have been no reported cases yet of rat lungworm disease in Texas, multiple cases of this serious, potentially fatal illness were confirmed in Hawaii in May, according to a statement from Hawaii’s Department of Health.
So how can you get rat lungworm disease? "People can get infected by eating raw or undercooked snails or slugs that are infected with this parasite," according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The New Guinea flatworm feasts on snails, which is how they end up becoming hosts to the parasite.
"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 stated.
After the Hawaii cases were reported, the Hawaii Department of Health officials put out a recommendation for avoiding being infected by the parasite that causes rat lungworm disease. First, make sure to wash any fruits and vegetables you plan to eat with clean running water. You should be particularly careful about leafy greens. By washing these foods properly, you'll remove any tiny slugs or snails.
Additionally, the Department of Health advises that you “control snail, slug, and rat populations around homes, gardens, and farms.” Make sure you clear debris in areas where these creatures might be hiding, and use traps and baits to rid your living areas of them.
You should also inspect produce from any source—whether it be a local retailer, backyard garden, or farmer’s market—and wash and store it in a sealed container.
So far, New Guinea flatworms have only been reported in Florida, Texas, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Though pretty gross looking, they are only dangerous if ingested, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.