In the U.S. Southeast, brown rats show the advance of a dangerous parasite known as rat lungworm or Angiostrongylus cantonensis. Recent findings around Atlanta reveal a scary situation where these parasites if caught by humans or pets, can cause a life-threatening condition known as encephalitis. This is an inflammation of the brain that requires immediate medical attention!
Let’s dive in to learn more about its quiet, yet significant spread in the Southeast U.S.A.
Origin and Spread
Rat lungworm is not a new entity. It originates from Asia and found its way into various states in the USA, possibly hitching rides on merchant ships with infected rats and snails. Atlanta is the latest city to join the list. This is causing concerns among scientists and health officials.
This parasite, if caught by humans or pets, can lead to a severe condition called encephalitis. This can cause inflammation of the brain that needs immediate attention.
Rat-Borne Parasite That Can Cause Brain Disease Spreading in Southern U.S. – https://t.co/c1C5xSlcZk— Drugs.com (@Drugscom) September 20, 2023
How It Spreads
This microscopic parasite begins its lifecycle in native and snails. When consumed by rats, the worm completes their cycle. They become the new carriers. Humans and pets that come into contact with infected rat feces run a risk of catching this dangerous parasite. This leads to potentially life-threatening inflammation in the brain.
Research and Findings
Nicole Gottdenker and her team at the University of Georgia took the first step to study this silent spread. They carefully examined 33 brown rats found in Atlanta between 2019 and 2022. The findings were scary. About one-fifth of these rats were carriers of these worms, with several of them having the same strains of A. cantonensis. These results suggest that this unwelcome guest has firmly set its presence in the Southeastern United States. Likely even before it was first identified in 2019.
Climate Change: A Catalyst?
Why is the parasite spreading now? The researchers believe that climate change and human interference play significant roles. Altered local food webs due to climate-induced changes are introducing and nurturing new snail species. They could be carriers of the parasite breeding its presence across various ecosystems and hosts. This not only threatens human lives but also poses serious risks to the health of various animals.
The Need for Awareness and Action
This discovery shows the need for caution among medical practitioners and veterinarians. A. cantonensis infection must be considered a possible diagnosis for cases presenting symptoms of meningoencephalitis. Early detection and intervention are a must to manage this hidden threat effectively. Raising awareness and understanding of this parasite is important to protect the health of the public and animals alike from severe neurological conditions.
A Balanced Perspective
The finding of rat lungworms in the Southeast U.S.A. brings new challenges. It also provides an opportunity for us to tighten our defenses against such unseen threats. Continuous research and public awareness campaigns are key to addressing these hidden dangers. It’s a reminder of the collective responsibility we hold to protect and keep the balance of our environment.
This study, published in the U.S. CDC’s journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases, serves as a wake-up call, a beacon drawing attention to this danger in our midst and shows our collective responsibility to address and act accordingly.
The start of the rat lungworm is a wake-up call for correct action and a ensure the safety of our environment and health. Let’s not allow the small, unseen things to catch us off guard.