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The dare seemed simple. Gross, maybe, but easy enough.
It was 2010, and 19-year-old Sam Ballard was with friends, having drinks at a party. Someone found a garden slug and a gauntlet was thrown: “Eat it, I dare you.”
The rugby player didn’t back down — and things turned bad quickly.
As it turned out, the slug that Ballard consumed infected him with rat lungworm. The parasitic worms can generally be found in rodents, but can transfer to snails or slugs if they eat the feces of an infected rat.
Beyond contracting the disease, things continued to get worse for the Sydney native; the parasite reached Ballard’s brain and sent him into a coma for 420 days, reports news.com.au.
Today, almost 10 years after first eating the slug, Ballard is a quadriplegic. He requires round-the-clock care, breathing and feeding tubes, and suffers from frequent seizures, according to the Daily Telegraph. His family struggles to shoulder the high cost of care.
Katie Ballard, the disabled man’s mother, received a $492,000 package from the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in 2016, when her son became eligible, according to the Telegraph. But in September, the NDIS texted her, saying his allocation would be slashed to $135,000. That’s not enough for the Ballard family, which is more than $40,000 in debt.
According to the paper, the funding cut came without warning or explanation. NDIS said it is “working closely” with the family to resolve the funding snafu.
Ballard’s case is tragic, but also rare. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says rat lungworm can infect people, though “under unusual circumstances.”
“However, even if infected,” the CDC website says, “most people recover fully without treatment.”
The parasite typically dies over time, even sans medical intervention.
To prevent rat lungworm infection, the CDC advises not to eat raw or undercooked snails, slugs, frogs and shrimp.
In January 2017, a San Francisco couple contracted rat lungworm while honeymooning in Maui.
“I felt initially like I wanted to crawl out of my body — stabbing pains in different parts of my body that would move,” said Eliza Lape. “Ben, my husband — his first symptoms were also this feeling of restlessness. He got terrible pain in his shoulders and elbows.”
The couple’s recovery took months.
According to the Hawaii State Department of Health, at least six cases of the parasite were confirmed on Maui, and three on the Big Island.