The First Slug is the Deadliest. Man Wins Dare, But Loses Life After Eating a Slug.Family Health
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
College-aged Sam Ballard was just doing what many young men do - he was joking around.
Back in 2010, the Australian rugby player was enjoying some red wine outside on the patio with his friends. They noticed a slug inching its way along on a table, and reportedly Sam was dared to eat the slug. He did, and his health completely deteriorated before he died on November 2nd, 2018 at just 29-years-old.
How Did This Seemingly Harmless Dare Turn Deadly?
Some reports say that shortly after Sam ate the slug, he became weak and experienced severe pain in his legs. His mother feared it was multiple sclerosis, which his father suffered from. Doctor’s confirmed this was not the case.
According to a CNN report, when Sam told his mother he had eaten a slug, her reaction was: “No, no one gets sick from that.”
But Sam did get very sick from eating the slug. He got encephalitis, went into a coma for more than a year (reportedly 420 days), acquired brain injury and woke up completely paralyzed.
“For years, he suffered from seizures, was forced to eat and breathe through tubes and required constant care…,” according to one source.
He contracted rat lungworm disease (Angiostrongylus cantonensis). It’s a parasitic worm that lives in the lungs of rats (hence the name). According to this video provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an infected rat coughs up worms from the lungs into the throat where they are then swallowed by the rat. So eventually, the worm passes the rat’s digestive system and ends up in the rat’s poop.
Then along comes a slug or snail that eats the rat’s poop and becomes infected. The worms can also penetrate a snail or slug’s body without them eating the rat’s waste.
“People get rat lungworm disease when they eat raw or undercooked slugs or snails that have worms in them. Slugs and snails may be eaten accidently if they are on fruits or vegetables that have not been thoroughly washed,” says the CDC.
Snails and slugs may be hosts to parasites which cause other diseases such as meningitis. And you don’t even have to actually eat them to be affected by the parasite.
“The parasites can be deposited by the gastropod in their slime trail and cases of meningitis in humans have been traced to having eaten lettuce and other garden vegetables that were improperly washed. The slime trail of a snail or slug on the vegetable being the vector of the disease,” according to one report.
Rat lungworm parasites can also be contracted from eating undercooked or raw freshwater crabs, shrimps, prawns or frogs.
Along with octopuses and mussels, snails and slugs are mollusks. Both snails and slugs are biologically similar except that slugs don’t have the snail's external spiral shell.
Many may actually consider snails to be a healthy food option. Eating escargot, a traditional French dish of snails baked in butter, is generally safe because cooking the snails usually kills any parasites. They are a low-fat source of protein (when not cooked in butter like escargot) and are nutrient-dense.
(They are, however, high in cholesterol).
One nutritionist from Nigeria suggested based off of a study that malnutrition and iron deficiency in young children could be fixed in a cost efficient manner by feeding children snail pies.
“Snail meat contains protein, fat (mainly polyunsaturated fatty acid), iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, zinc, vitamins A, B6, B12, K and folate. It also contains the amino acids arginine and lysine at higher levels than in whole egg. It also contains healthy essential fatty acids such as linoleic and linolenic acids. The high-protein, low-fat content of snail meat makes it a healthy alternative food,” according to a report on the study.
It is, however, not advised that you pick garden snails out of your backyard and attempt to cook and eat them.
How Common is Rat Lungworm Disease?
Overall, this disease is relatively rare in the United States, but evidence shows that in recent years 12 people have been infected in the continental U.S.
“And more cases may have gone unreported, because the parasite often does not cause severe symptoms, and it’s been found across several states,” according to this NBC report.
Sam had a very extreme case of rat lungworm. Oddly enough back in 1993, an 11-year-old boy in New Orleans also ate a slug as a dare and contracted the parasite. He was much more fortunate than Sam and had a much milder case. He was said to have just suffered from headache, stiff neck, vomiting and a mild fever. The CDC says his symptoms went away in two weeks without any treatment. So it looks like his immune system alone was able to successfully fight the infection.
The CDC says most known cases of rat lungworm have been in parts of Asia and the Pacific Islands.
One newly married couple got rat lungworm while on their honeymoon in Hawaii.
Some cases have also been seen in the Caribbean and Africa.
Some Ways You Can Be Proactive?
- Talk to your kids. From Sam’s tragic story, it is evident that ‘truth or dare’ is not always fun and games. Hazing as part of fraternity initiations are also common where some students are pressured to eat odd things. If you do a simple Google search on this issue, you will see horrific stories of some young men being forced to eat whole onions covered in hot sauce, cat food and expired food. We have seen cases where young men were also not allowed to eat or drink water and died as a result of dehydration and heat exhaustion.
- Wash your veggies thoroughly. Eating nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables is great for your overall health. You will reap the most nutrients from eating these foods raw (overcooking causes nutrient depletion). With that said, it is imperative to wash and re-wash your fruits and veggies. Scrub them with your hands and inspect them to make sure there are no bugs or slugs crawling on them. You can also use an organic fruit and vegetable spray wash to get your fresh produce extra clean.
- Be careful when traveling. If you are going abroad, this is probably not the most ideal time to eat raw produce (unless it is something you peel, like a banana or mango). Stick to cooked foods to decrease your chance of ingesting a parasite. Also be mindful of where your water is coming from.
- Take care of your immune system. In many instances, our bodies are able to fight off infection if we have a strong immune system. Read here to see how you can keep your immune system in top shape.
Enjoy your healthy life!
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