A potentially lethal parasite has been found in pockets of Florida, including St. Johns County. University of Florida researchers say rat lungworm was detected in St. Johns, Alachua, Leon, Orange, and Hillsborough counties. Those behind the study believe it’s likely there are more counties affected, as the parasite expands its geographic range. Rat lungworm is carried by rats and snails and can cause meningitis. It can be contracted by both humans and animals, through eating infected snails, frogs, or crustaceans. Symptoms include headache, stiff neck, fever, vomiting, nausea, and paralysis of the face and limbs. The fatality rate in humans is low, according to UF researchers, but could lead to meningitis, which could escalate to coma or death. The parasite generally manifests in animals as limb weakness, paralysis, neck pain, central nervous system problems, and potentially meningitis. Researchers say the parasite is apparently able to infect multiple snail species, which could include native populations. Rat lungworm further thrives in a tropical climate, so rising temperatures could facilitate its spread. More than 2,800 cases of human rat lungworm have been documented worldwide, although researchers believe the actual number of cases to be higher. There have been no human infections in Florida. To lower the risk of infection, you’re urged to wash produce and use caution when eating snails or undercooked frogs or crustaceans. You should also warn your children against handling snails. You can protect pets and livestock by checking living spaces and water troughs for snails. Additionally, use extreme caution around rats.