Scientists Battle Massive Snails That Infect People’s Brains

KERRY SHERIDAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Font Size:

Giant African land snails capable of transmitting nervous-system-attacking parasites are back in Florida following a brief period in 2021 when they were declared eradicated, Ars Technica reported Wednesday.

The land snails, also known as GALS, were confirmed to be in New Port Richey, Pasco County, according to a Pest Alert issued by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) in late June. (RELATED: Hong Kong Will Kill 2,000 Animals Because Some Hamsters Caught COVID-19)

The snails are known to carry rat lungworm parasites, which may invade the nervous system causing a kind of meningitis, Ars Technica reported. The infection can wreak havoc in the central nervous system, resulting in symptoms such as headaches, nausea, vomiting, confusion and photophobia (eye sensitivity to light), according to the CDC.

Neurological effects of the disease varies from no symptoms to paresthesia, which is a burning or pricking sensation felt in various parts of the body, according to the Encyclopedia of the Neurological Science. The rat lungworm will sometimes die in the central nervous system, meaning that no treatment is necessary, according to Ars Technica.

People typically become infected by consuming undercooked snails, fruits and vegetables contaminated by the snails, or by consuming undercooked animals that ate the snails, Ars Technica reported. 

The GALS were introduced to Florida in 1966 when a child brought three snails home from Hawaii as pets, according to the Bradenton Herald. Soon after their introduction, the GALS population reached 18,000 and cost authorities more than $1 million to eradicate the snails. The snails were eradicated in 1975, but reappeared before being eradicated for a second time in 2021, Ars Technica noted.

The FDACS has begun to survey the New Port Richey area and have enacted a quarantine to stop the spread of the animals by using pesticide treatments.