Deadly, invasive parasite spreading in South Florida

July 29, 2016

A potential deadly flatworm first discovered in Miami has now spread to Southwest Florida, which could wreak havoc for the state, officials say.

State officials have started an investigation on how the New Guinea flatworm made its migration from Miami to Cape Coral. A resident spottedthe goo-spewing wormsin a flower pot on Thursday, but apparently they have been in Cape Coral since September and “we just didn’t know,”WFTXreports.

Researchers believe these flatworms initially came to Florida when plants and tropical fruits were shipped to the state from the South Pacific.

“They’re a dark worm with a dorsal orange stripe down the center of their back,” Roy Beckford, an agriculture agent in Lee County, told WFTX.

The real problem? The worms could infect humans.If a rat ingests the worm it could be passed on to people, causing diseases that affect the brain, spinal cord and lungs, such as meningitis.

“If you have long worms, basically you start this horrible coughing. It’s a parasite in your lungs that needs to be treated,” Beckford said to WFTX.

Even touching the worm can be dangerous “because it actually vomits up this caustic substance that can cause problems.” Beckford added.

But what officials are most worried about is the worm’s environmental effects. Since they have no natural predators, the worms can destroy anything in it’s path, such as trees, small creatures and vegetation, according to WFTX.

The New Guinea flatworm could also extinct other native species, Beckford said to WFTX.The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission asks any resident who sees these worms to call 888-IVE-GOT1.

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