A killer in the garden
A killer in the garden

Reporter: Dr John D'Arcy
Producer: Sophie Kennedy-White
Associate producer: Kelly Hawke
Date: 13 November, 2011

There have been less than ten serious cases of Rat lungworm disease in Australia in the past 50 years. In this major investigation Doctor John D'Arcy reveals that a cluster of recent infections in Sydney has been downplayed by health authorities concerned about creating public panic.

Babies Willow Mae Bryant and Grace Cairns, who lived on the same street in adjacent suburbs were infected at virtually the same time. 20 year old Sam Ballard, who also lived nearby, was also a victim of one of the most frightening diseases on the planet after he ate a slug as a dare at a party.

Their families wonder why more wasn't done to inform the public.

Rat Lungworm disease information

Rat Lungworm disease has been documented in Australia, Asia, the Pacific region, the Caribbean and the United States.

Most infections are not severe but in the worst cases rat lungworm disease causes severe meningitis and death.

Humans can contract Rat Lungworm disease by eating snails and slugs or material contaminated by slugs and snails. The best way to prevent infection is good sanitation; always wash hands after touching slugs and snails or surfaces contaminated by them.

It is also important to thoroughly wash and cook any produce that could be contaminated. Never eat raw snails or slugs.

If infected, there may be no symptoms or only mild short lived symptoms. Most cases do not require medical attention. Sometimes the infection causes meningitis with headache, stiff neck, tingling or pain in the skin, fever, nausea, and vomiting. People who develop these symptoms should see their doctor. Rat lung worm infection cannot be passed on to other people.

Response to Sunday Night's Request for an Interview with NSW Minister for Health Jillian Skinner:

I am advised Rat Lungworm is not a notifiable disease as it is not spread directly from person to person. Diseases such as meningococcal and whooping cough are notifiable as they can be directly passed on person to person. The major reason a disease is made notifiable is to allow public health action to prevent the spread of the disease to other people. Rat Lungworm is not infectious and therefore is not on the national list of notifiable diseases. NSW Ministry of Health has further advised it will continue to assess any reports of Rat Lungworm.

NSW Rat Lungworm Health Warning

The NSW Health Department issued no warnings after the death of Willow Mae Bryant or the severe infection of Grace Cairns.

NSW Health issued one media release after Sam Ballard was infected.


Comments from Professor Alison Kesson - Head of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology at Sydney Children's Hospital, Westmead.

Rat lungworm graphic provided by Discovery Access

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