ATLANTA - A parasitic brain worm spread by rats and snails has been confirmed in Georgia, according to the findings of a recent study.
After collecting tissue samples from wild brown rats found dead in Atlanta, researchers say they found more than 20% of the animals had nematodes in their heart, pulmonary artery, or brain tissues.
"A. cantonensis lungworm in urban rat populations, gastropod intermediate hosts, and other paratenic hosts in the populous greater Atlanta area pose a possible threat to the health of humans and domestic, free-ranging, and captive animals," the researchers with the University of Georgia wrote in a report summarizing their study published in Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal.
The researchers say they believe the parasite has spread and "become established" in parts of the southeastern United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, humans can become the accidental host of the parasite by eating raw or undercooked food, and outbreaks are extremely rare.
Once inside a human, the worm could cause a rare brain infection known as eosinophilic meningitis. Symptoms can include headaches, still neck, tingling, fevers, vomiting, or painful feelings in the skin.
"Most infections of A. cantonensis resolve spontaneously over time without specific treatment because the parasite cannot survive for long in the human body. However, serious complications can rarely occur, leading to neurologic dysfunction or death," according to the study published in the EID journal.
There is currently no specific treatment for the parasite, but the CDC says there could be some treatments that help reduce the symptoms.
If you have symptoms and believe you may have been exposed to the lungworm, contact your healthcare provider.