A potentially deadly parasite has been found in Southwest Florida, and officials are investigating how they can prevent it from spreading elsewhere (video below).
The New Guinea flatworm is an invasive species that authorities say was spotted in Miami in 2015, according to WFTX. It is now confirmed to have migrated to Cape Coral, where a local discovered one of the worms in a flowerpot.
“They’re a dark worm with a dorsal orange stripe down the center of their back,” agriculture agent Roy Beckford said, according to WFTX.
Researchers say the worms arrived in Florida along with plants and produce that were shipped from the South Pacific.
“I first saw one in my driveway … about a year ago in June, and I happened to do a little research and got in touch with a researcher in Paris at the Museum of Natural History and he said ‘Wow, haven’t seen any that far north,’” environmental scientist Christopher McVoy told WPEC.
The worm can infect rats and mice, which can then pass the infection on to humans. This in turn can lead to serious diseases of the brain and spinal cord, including meningitis.
“If you have long worms, basically you start this horrible coughing,” Beckford said. “It’s a parasite in your lungs that needs to be treated.”
Simply coming in contact with one of these worms is dangerous.
“It can actually cause problems on your skin because it actually vomits up this caustic substance that can cause problems,” Beckford said.
While the flatworm is a threat to human health, it is an even bigger threat to the ecosystem. They have the capacity to destroy small creatures like lizards and snails, as well as trees and other vegetation.
“Bear in mind we’re not just talking about trees,” Beckford told WFTX. “We’re talking about shrubs and other plants that grow in our environments here.”
Anyone who spots one of these worms is encouraged to take pictures and contact authorities.