Rat lungworm: Cuban tree frogs in Florida found to carry parasite that’s deadly to humans, animals

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — An invasive species of treefrog hopscotching across the state of Florida now comes with an added risk: hosting a parasite that’s potentially deadly to animals and humans.

For the first time, a recent University of Florida study identified Cuban treefrogs as a host for the rare, but deadly, rat lungworm parasite. The news came in an article published on Jan. 31 in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases.

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The frogs were found in Volusia County, where the rat lungworm had not previously been detected, the researchers said.

“The Cuban treefrog is extremely abundant in residential areas in peninsular Florida, often seeking shelter around homes that put them in close contact with humans,” said Heather Walden, Ph.D., an assistant professor of parasitology at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine and the study’s lead author.

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In humans, infection with rat lungworm can cause meningitis, brain damage and blindness. In dogs, symptoms can include rear limb weakness and hind leg paralysis.

Researchers said it’s possible that a dog could eat a frog and become infected.

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“The parasite itself is definitely a concern to humans and animals,” Walden said. “You have to ask: What would eat the Cuban treefrog, and how would the parasite affect that particular host? And if it does spread to other frogs, it’s the same question. What would eat those frogs?”

She added that while the Cuban treefrog’s role in the rat lungworm’s life cycle remains unknown, the findings are cause for concern, primarily due to its rapidly expanding geographical range.

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Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.