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A Nasty Little Parasite – Parents Take Care!

February 1st, 2009

slugI did a fair amount of work a couple of years ago when researching the various illnesses and  health issues common to Costa Rica.  I thought I had a pretty good handle on it… then some nice lady sent me an email about Chagas Disease… so I checked that out and added it.  Well I guess Chagas was not the end because today, I will introduce you to Angiostrongylus costaricensis, a nasty little parasite that has made sick and sadly killed some very young children. Of the 42 cases treated since 2003, 16 were girls and 26 were boys under the age of 14 years. At serious risk are the youngest… under nine years old.

While justifiably scary to most parents, the numbers themselves are small  Still, it bears spending some time learning about this parasite.

Basically, the whole process starts with rats. Rats become infected and pass larvae in their feces. Slugs and snails come in contact with the feces and they then become infected. The disease is passed to humans while eating undercooked snails or possibly on vegetables that either have small snails on them or perhaps have not been thoroughly washed. I say perhaps, because the Center for Disease Control (CDC) states “There is some question whether or not larvae can exit the infected mollusks in slime”.  Some here think that just contact with the slime of a slug can infect a person, maybe by just crawling around on a lettuce leaf, but clearly there is no proof of this. More likely would be ingesting a tiny snail in your salad.  Either way, wash those veggies!

I know little about escargot, but I know a ton of folks who dote on it. I tried it once and liked it, but then if you put enough garlic on a shoe, I’d probably like it equally. I also think special snails are used in preparing escargot.  Probably went to prep school or something… but just the same, I think thorough cooking is called for.

Kids, however, can find slugs and snails to be fascinating. They pick them up and think they might make fine pets.  A few weeks ago, however, a little boy (15 months) died after eating a slug. He passed after spending  two week in Childrens Hospital.. The larvae do just terrible things to a child’s intestines.

Interestingly, all of the kids involved lived either in San Jose or Alajuela. I say interestingly as, in general, Cost Rica’s normally nasty critters and bugs live on the coasts or the rain forests where the tropical heat provides a better environment.

This all starts with the rats, of course, so in addition to the cautions above, make sure there is no thriving rat population near you.

3 Responses to “A Nasty Little Parasite – Parents Take Care!”

  1. Sandi H. on February 9, 2009 3:31 am

    Here in the states, there is a parasite in pond snails, can’t remember the variety of snails, but they are common and they are known to cause liver flukes, which destroy the livers in livestock, and I would imagine they would do the same to people, expecially children who love to play in water of any kind, even puddles, much less in ponds and other bodies of water. They can come in with irrigation water; they live in, and around ponds, and they even can get in tropical fish fresh water aquariums and cause problems as well. Hope I’m remembering this correctly, as it’s been decades since I looked into this problem. Could this be the same parasite you’re talking about, flukes? The snails are the host.

  2. Jon on March 7, 2009 2:34 pm

    The slug or slug-like creatures (no shells) are called “babosas” here in Costa Rica. We occasionally see them outside near the house after rains.

  3. Jim S. on April 19, 2009 6:19 pm

    Similar to Hanovera Virus, nasty bacteria that live in mice and rat fecal. Infection occurs when your hand comes in contact with fecal than you wipe your eyes or lick your fingers before sanitizing. Can cause death. Common in SW USA but spreading to other areas. Info at US CDC.