Four out of five Thai workers who ate raw snails earlier in the month became infected with a potentially deadly parasite, the Department of Health (DOH) said on Wednesday.
Centers for Disease Control Deputy Director Chou Jih-haw (周志浩) said that three of the workers were in stable condition, while one had left Taiwan and the other had not shown any symptoms of illness.
Three of the workers were reported to have been infected with the parasitic nematode Angiostrongylus cantonensis — an elongated cylindrical worm — early this month and developed symptoms of eosinophilic meningitis, including headaches, fever and vomiting, Chou said.
The DOH discovered that the trio and some of their friends had caught apple snails, Pomacea canaliculata, in fish ponds in southern Taiwan and eaten them raw with sauce.
Snails are usually the primary host of the worm, also known as the rat lungworm — a parasite endemic to Southeast Asia and the Pacific region.
Humans become infected by ingesting the parasite’s larvae, which is then carried in the blood to the central nervous system. This can result in eosinophilic meningitis, which is characterized in the early stages by severe and acute headaches, fever, nausea and vomiting, and stiffness of the neck, and can result in death or permanent brain damage.
Chou said that it was once believed that eating giant African snails could cure certain illnesses and that there were frequent reports in Taiwan of infections of this type of roundworm.
A 70-year-old man in Kaohsiung was treated for the same conditions in 2007 after eating raw frogs in an effort to cure back pain.
Another case in 2005 saw Hualien’s Tzu-Chi Buddhist General Hospital treat a 48-year-old man who had become infected with the parasite after eating raw snails.
In 1998, eight Thai workers came down with eosinophilic meningitis as result of eating raw snails and in 1999, Kaohsiung Veterans General Hospital reported that nine Thai laborers had been infected with rat lungworms.
In light of the recent case, the DOH said it would contact Thai authorities to step up health education to avoid a recurrence of the problem.
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