Can people get sick from handling African snails? All you need to know about African snails and your health

The African snails are very adaptive, invasive creatures that constitute a great threat to natural resources, human health, and agricultural crops. They are known to feed on over 500 different plant species, including common vegetables, ornamentals, and fruits. They are also known to feed on stucco and house paint.

The spread of snails in a particular region is limited by moisture and cold temperatures, as well as the availability of soil calcium that is necessary for its shell formation. Part of the threat posed by the African snails is the ability to reproduce very fast. They reach reproductive age as early as 5 to 6 months period and live nearly a decade.

Although the African snail mate to reproduce, the adult snails have both female and male sexual organs. After just a single mating, the snail is capable of laying multiple batches of eggs, totaling more than 1200 eggs per year per snail. Find out more about how snails reproduce in one of our articles hereOpens in a new tab..

So, Can African Snails hurt humans? African snails are not directly dangerous, however, they might be a transmitter of pathogens and diseases. One would ask, will I get sick from handling African Snails? You will not get sick if you wash your hands after handling African Snails and observe strict hygiene. Avoid direct contact if found outside.

In this article, we answer questions related to some health issues while dealing with African snails.

On another note, to know more about snail brain and emotionsOpens in a new tab., check out our article on Can you bond with snails?Opens in a new tab..

How to deal with African snails

Proper sanitization practice in your garden and lawn will help you eliminate and expose the African snail’s hideaways such as logs, overturned flowerpots, damp leaves, or garden debris. As we have seen in the introductory part of this article, African snails can be very destructive and dangerous to human health.

Large slime and mucus trails, large ribbon-like feces, and extensive chewing damage traces on the plant are enough evidence that the African snails are present. They normally stay close to their nest, feeding at night and early morning hours. However, they will also feed on cool, cloudy days when the soil is moist.

You need to be aware that they don’t die during the dry season. What happens is that they mostly hide under the soil, where they can stay safe and inactive for a year or longer. They resurface when the weather is favorable for them to thrive.

Can land snails hurt humans?

African land snails may not present themselves as dangerous pests. However, they can be poisonous if they carry a parasitic nematode known as the rat lungworm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis). Also, If you bathe in water that harbors freshwater snails, the snail’s larvae can penetrate your skin and cause dreadful schistosomiasis or bilharzia infection.

What are some pathogens transmitted by the African snail?

Although not poisonous, the African snail may also carry some animal and plant pathogens, that includes the nematode parasite rat lungworm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis) capable of causing human meningitis, Salmonella bacteria, schistosomiasis, and so on.

Most of the deaths and infections coming from these snail-transmitted diseases come from eating uncooked or raw snails or consuming slime deposits left on vegetables and fresh fruits.

Here is a table that summarizes the common snail-borne parasitic diseases and their respective mode of transmission. (SourceOpens in a new tab.)

Snail borne parasitic diseasesMode of transmission
Angiostrongylus cantonensis (Human Meningitis)Ingestion of a raw infected snail
Salmonella bacteria Ingestion of a raw infected snail
Schistosomiasis or bilharzia infection Skin contact with infected water
FascioliasisIngestion of vegetation contaminated with infected snail eggs
ClonorchiasisIngestion of a raw infected snail
FasciolopsiasisIngestion of vegetation contaminated with infected snail eggs
Paragonimiasis (Lung disease) Ingestion of a raw infected snail
A table showing the common Snail-borne parasitic diseases and their respective mode of transmission. (SourceOpens in a new tab.)

Do all snails carry meningitis?

Not all snails carry meningitis. Only wild African snails that carry the nematode parasite rat lungworm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis) are capable of causing human meningitis. You should wash your hands after handling these pets and observe strict hygiene.

Considering how dangerous and invasive these snails are, it is illegal to keep these pets in the USA and may attract penalties should you be found keeping the African snails as a pet.

Read more about this from this article – Can African Snails be Pets? All You Need to Know About the Giant African Land SnailOpens in a new tab.

Good hygiene practices to help keep you safe from these diseases include;

  • Washing your hands properly
  • Cooking these snails properly before eating
  • Washing your fruits and vegetables properly before eating
  • Wearing proper clothing before going into swampy areas

Some factors that pose as a threat to the African Snails

The Giant African land snails might be dangerous but, they are still vulnerable to a vast range of natural predator species including ground beetles, caterpillars, and other species of snails. Also, mammals and other predators such as gray fox prey on African land snails as well.

Giant African snails are also susceptible to infestations of flies and mites. While most of these pests can be eliminated easily by thorough washing, some can burrow into the African snail’s body and make them uncomfortable.

Releasing Giant African Land Snail species into the wild in regions such as the UK will expose them to great climatic threats and danger. They will not survive the climate and would freeze to death during winter. Generally, exposing the Giant African Land Snails to extreme climatic conditions is cruel.

With industrialization, many African Land Snails are under threat due to developments. When humans construct buildings on the once-fertile land, cut down forests for wood, or block up waterways, the African land snail’s habitats may be destroyed, threatening their lives.

African land snails are sensitive creatures that absorb toxins easily into their bodies. Just a spurt of soap or sprinkle of salt into their dwelling is enough to kill them. Dumping toxic waste such as pesticides within their dwellings will have a destructive effect on the African snail population.

How to properly handle an African snail without causing harm

African snails are safe to touch. However, there are a few factors you must consider to avoid causing them any harm:

  • Always wash your hands properly with water and soap to remove any harmful oils, lotions, and natural elements that the African snail may absorb off your skin.
  • With slightly wet hands, scoop up the African snail below its foot to break the suction.
  • Never pick up an African snail by its shell, as this may damage the body muscle that attaches the snail’s body to the shell. If you expose the snail’s body by damaging the shell, it will die.

This video below provides more explanation on how to care for any Giant African land snail.

Final thoughts

The African snails are dangerous pests to both our agricultural produce and our health especially when they are infected with certain parasites like the rat lungworm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis).

These snails are capable of causing diseases such as meningitis, lung diseases, Schistosomiasis, and many others. These diseases are commonly transmitted to humans by ingestion of infected snails or contaminated vegetation and are less commonly transmitted via skin contact.

Nevertheless, practicing good hygiene when handling these snails will keep you safe from these diseases. Such good hygiene practices include; washing your hands properly, cooking these snails properly before eating, washing your fruits and vegetables properly before eating, and wearing proper clothing before going into swampy areas.

Note that these giant African snails can be kept as pets, and it is important to handle them properly to avoid harm. Ways to handle these snails include; washing your hands properly with water and soap to remove any harmful oils, scooping up the African snail below its foot to break the suction instead of picking up an African snail by its shell.
You should protect yourself and the African giant snails by practicing the steps listed above.

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