Lindsey Bever | The Washington Post
Sam Ballard swallowed the slug in a challenge.
The young Sydney rugby player was a larrikin spirit – a free and disordered spirit, his mother said. So when the creature crawled across a table at a party in 2010 and his friends challenged him to eat, his son accepted the challenge, she said.
"Twenty-year-old boys, red wine, alcohol, sitting at someone's table – a slug goes to the table, someone jokes about a challenge," her mother, Katie Ballard, told 7 News Sydney in an interview the following year. "The boys will be boys," she said.
The challenge may have been innocent enough.
But after swallowing the slug, Ballard contracted a rat lung worm – a parasitic worm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis) that lives in rodents and can be passed to snails and slugs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These gastropods can transmit the worm to humans.
In an unusual and tragic twist, the parasite infested Ballard's brain – putting him in a coma for more than a year and paralyzing him, News.com.au said. Ultimately, that killed him.
Ballard, 29, died at the end of last week, according to the Sunday Project. Her last words to her mother were, "I love you," according to the Australian news.
Ballard began to experience severe leg pain a few days after eating the slug, according to the Sunday Project.
He asked his mother if it could have been caused by the bug.
"No, nobody gets sick with it," her mother said, recalling the incident in an interview earlier this year.
But his doctors soon discovered that he had become sick with the slug.
"He was scared," his mother told the Sunday Project. "So, you know, as a mother, all you want to do is reassure them. As far as I'm concerned, he did not do anything wrong. It was just a silly thing.
– The project (@theprojecttv) April 1, 2018
Ballard, whose mother once said he looked "invincible," was quadriplegic. For years he suffered from seizures, was forced to eat and breathe through tubes and demanded constant care, which the family struggled to pay for, according to the Daily Telegraph.
In 2011, Katie Ballard wrote on Facebook that her son was "still the same cheeeeeeeekkkyyy Sam" and that she believed he would talk and walk again.
Lisa Wilkinson of the Sunday Project wrote in a column on Monday that for almost nine years, "Sam's gorgeous mommy, Katie, was right alongside Sam as her primary caregiver, never hesitating in her love; feeding him, pushing him, driving him, washing him and washing him, arranging visits to doctors and hospitals, always trying to find the lighter moments so she could see his son smile again, waking up to every sound of the night , always making sure of Sam's friends. He felt welcome in his new limited world. When they visited, as they usually did, Sam's eyes always lit up.
"And Katie always was, always optimistic for what the future held for him."
Now Ballard is dead.
The parasitic worm Angiostrongylus cantonensis lives in the lungs of rodents.
As the CDC explained in a video, the rodent – usually a mouse – coughs up the worms and then swallows them, forcing them into the animal's stomach. Eventually, the rat excretes the worms.
Snails or slugs can be infected by eating the mouse feces, according to the CDC, and people can become infected by eating snails or slugs.
According to the CDC:
People can be infected by eating raw or undercooked snails or slugs that are infected with this parasite. In some cultures, snails are commonly consumed. Some children, in particular, were infected by ingesting snails / slugs "in a challenge. People can also be infected by accident by eating raw products (such as lettuce) that contain a small snail or slug or part of one.
Certain animals such as freshwater shrimp, crabs or frogs have been found to be infected with larvae of the parasite. It is possible that eating undercooked or raw infected animals may result in infected people, although the evidence of this is not as clear as the ingestion of infected snails and snails. It should be noted that fish do not propagate this parasite.
Cases have been reported in Hawaii as well as in the continental United States, according to the CDC. A New Orleans boy contracted the parasite in 1993 by eating a snail "in a challenge," according to the agency, but did not need treatment.
Australian health officials called this an "extremely rare infection."
The New South Wales Ministry of Health said in a fact sheet that most people who contract the disease do not have any symptoms; when they do, the symptoms are usually temporary and mild, according to the health agency.
According to the ministry:
Very rarely, the lung worm causes an infection (infestation) of the brain called eosinophilic meningoencephalitis. People with this condition may have headaches, stiff neck, tingling or pain in the skin, fever, nausea and vomiting. The time between eating the slug or snail and getting sick is usually 1 to 3 weeks.
Anyone with these symptoms should seek medical evaluation, although other infections (such as meningococcal disease or pneumococcal disease) are much more likely causes of meningitis in children.
Health officials warn people not to eat snails or raw slugs and to wash fruits and vegetables well and inspect them for slimy creatures.