You've probably never heard of Rat Lungworm disease, but it's been a hot topic of conversation after the tragic death of Sam Ballard, a young Australian rugby player who contracted it after a dare... eight years ago.
A really, really disgusting dare, if I might add. His mates thought it'd be a good idea to urge Sam to eat a slimy, nasty slug he found outside. Sam, probably because he didn't want to be a chicken, proved he was totally capable of eating the slug.
Unfortunately, that proved to be a life-changing decision. Unbeknownst to Sam, the gastropod carried a deadly parasite that saw his health rapidly deteriorate and put him into a coma.
For 420 days, Sam was unresponsive, and when he finally awoke, he was paralyzed and in need of 24-hour care. He could neither move without assistance nor eat without a feeding tube.
Despite his deteriorated physical state, Sam was in total control of his mental faculties, right until the moment he died.
His close friend Galvin discussed the fateful day that changed Sam's life forever.
It all started from a "Grown-Ups" night, where Sam and his pals were hanging out in the backyard and sipping on some red wine.
"We were sitting over here, having a bit of red wine appreciation night, trying to act as grown-ups," Galvin said in a video interview with The Sunday Project.
During their little bro-wine-sipping-session, they noticed the big slug chilling in Sam's backyard.
"And then the conversation came up, 'Should I eat it?'And then off Sam went and bang, that's how it happened."
After he ate the slug, Sam complained that his legs were really hurting him and that he felt weak. At first, his mother thought it could be multiple sclerosis, because her husband suffered from it.
Doctors assured her that it wasn't MS. Sam then mentioned to his mother that he had eaten a slug, but she thought that there was no way that could've had such an effect on him.
"And I went, 'No, no one gets sick from that,'" Katie Ballard, sam's mother said.
What is Rat Lungworm disease?
But it turns out that people do get sick from that. Doctors informed Sam and his family that he had contracted rat lungworm disease from the slug. It stems from a parasitic worm that's usually found in rats. It's name: Angiostronjilus cantonensis.
The parasites lives inside the lungs of rats, who then cough up the worms, swallow them, and then poop it out. It then lives in the rodent's excrement. That rat poo is later eaten by or comes into contact with frogs, prawns, shrimp, crabs, fish, or snails and slugs.
How did Sam contract it from a garden slug?
Even though fish don't carry the parasite, snails and slugs do, as will raw, unwashed, or undercooked animal meats. Vegetables that came into contact with the parasite can also be contaminated, which is yet another reason to thoroughly wash anything before eating it.
The Center for Disease Control also says open beverages are at risk or contamination. If a slug or snail comes into contact with your beverage, no matter how thirsty you are, it's probably best to toss whatever is left and get a new drink. Make it a new cup while you're at it, too.
How did rat lungworm make him quadriplegic?
Unlike rats, when a human contracts the parasitic worm, it doesn't just pass through our digestive tracts and exit in our feces. The worm gets "lost" in the human body and eventually finds its way to our brain and stays there.
Heather Stockdale Warren, a professor in the Department of Infectious Diseases and Pathology at the University of Florida says the worm isn't passed from human to human. Once it reaches the brain, it causes eosinophilic meningitis, ie, swelling of the brain.
If you've ever watched that show The Knick, then you might recall the horrifying scenes in season 1 where a young doctor's baby becomes infected accidentally by her father, a doctor who treated a patient with rat bites.
Symptoms of meningitis, which is an extremely scary disease, include a stiff neck, headaches, vomiting, nausea, and fever.
Although most known cases of rat lungworm are easily treated, Sam's unfortunately was so advanced that there was no chance of recovery for the once vibrant and avid rugby player.
Galvin reflected on how difficult it was seeing Sam respond to his apology when he went to visit him in the hospital.
"He's in there, 100%. I apologized to Sam about everything that happened that night in the backyard. And he just started bawling his eyes out. I know he's there," Galvin said in his interview with The Sunday Project.
Lisa Wilkinson, executive editor for the program, wrote in her blog that, as Sam tragically passed away, he was surrounded by some 20 family members and friends.
He died at 28, and his funeral will be held on Thursday, November 8, according to his friend, Galvin, who has decided to mourn his friend by turning his wake into a celebration of the young man's life.
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