Rat lungworm infection was first detected in Europe, specifically in ‘neighboring’ Spain, in Valencia.
Angiostrongylus cantonensis, named after its discovery in China in the 1930s, is capable of reaching the brain and causing meningitis in humans. It is a major cause of eosinophilic meningitis, a variant of the disease.
The appearance in Spain is already raising alarms among public health officials.
“It’s an emergency parasite, it’s expanding, so we have to take it into account”, explains Maria Teresa Colón, the university professor in charge of the study at the University of Valencia, which allowed the detection of the parasite in two species. Rats in town.
Spanish research published in the journal Science indicated that the parasite persisted in 9% of the samples examined, both in animals that were more common in urban centers and those living in rural areas.
Native to South Asia and the Pacific, the parasite has traveled the world at great speed with rats following ships. To develop and complete its cycle, the worm requires the intervention of other organisms, such as slugs and snails, which act as intermediaries for the parasite to mature and change status.
Adult worms settle in the pulmonary arteries of rodents, where they reproduce. Larvae reach the trachea, then are expelled and reach snails and slugs, where they evolve and become infective when ingested. “Humans and other mammals and birds can become infected if they eat these poorly cooked molluscs or vegetables contaminated with their residues,” warns university professor and researcher Antonio Ozuna. Biotechnology. from the University of Granada.
Snails or other snail-eating animals, such as freshwater prawns or crabs, are carriers of the parasite when they are poorly cooked.
Symptoms of infection appear between one and three weeks after ingestion of the larvae and can range from mild to severe, with the most serious outcome being eosinophilic meningitis.
In humans, the parasite is unable to complete its developmental cycle and lodges in the brain, causing inflammation of the membranes surrounding this organ and leading to an increase in white blood cells, eosinophils, in the cerebrospinal fluid. .
“In most cases, the infection resolves on its own, but cases of death have already been documented,” explains Callan to El Mundo, adding that there is no specific treatment for the problem.
However, the scientist says that “the probability of developing infection and serious health problems is low”, although “it is necessary to take into account that the parasite is here and it can cause meningitis”. Health professionals should be vigilant. “It should be included in the differential diagnosis of any patient with symptoms compatible with meningitis,” the researcher argues.
The Spanish Ministry of Health evaluated the investigation report and assessed a “low risk” of generalized infection by the parasite, “infection in humans is rare and only 2800 cases are known worldwide”, however, the organism admits. The infection has been described and is considered an emerging tropical disease”, which is why it is under surveillance by health authorities.