Sam Ballard, a promising rugby player, took his final breath on Friday, Nov. 2, in a hospital in Sydney surrounded by family and friends. He was 28 years old.
Eating A Slug As A Dare
Ballard was only 19 when he ate the slug that will eventually cause his death. In 2010, the young man was drinking with friends in Sydney when they saw a slug crawling across the patio.
After downing the slug, Ballard complained of severe pain in his legs. At first, they suspected that the young man had multiple sclerosis just like his father, but upon assessment by doctors, they discovered that he developed rat lungworm disease.
From there, his situation only became worse. He developed eosinophilic meningoencephalitis, a form of meningitis, and fell into a coma for 420 days. When the doctors revived him, he was paralyzed and in need of constant care. Ballard's brain received serious brain injury.
What Is Rat Lungworm Disease?
Rat lungworm disease, as the name suggests, is caused by a parasite called Angiostronjilus cantonensis that often affects rats. The parasite lodges inside the lungs of the infected rat, but are later excreted through poop.
When another animal, like a slug, gets exposed to the rat's poop, they also get infected with the parasite. Humans can get the disease from eating the animal uncooked.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rat lungworm disease is common in Southeast Asia and the tropical Pacific Island. Cases have also been reported in the United States.
To avoid getting infected, refrain from eating raw or undercooked snails, slugs, frogs, shrimps, and prawns. Public health officials also warned about fresh produce. They say always wash vegetables thoroughly.
Symptoms include a headache, stiff neck, tingling under the skin, fever, nausea, and vomiting. In most cases, the infection does not need to be treated because it goes away on its own.
However, it is best to see a healthcare provider if someone suspects of an exposure to the disease. A blood test can be performed to check for meningitis.