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US border officials seize 15 giant snails

Live snails, fresh leaves and a quarter pound of beef were found this month – not on a plate or a grocery store, but in the luggage of a Texas airport.

A passenger from Nigeria first disclosed the beef jerky in her suitcase, before adding 15 giant African snails to her statement.

Snails, which have been turned over to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), can cause meningitis in humans.

It is illegal to possess in the United States without a license.

Giant African snails are among the most harmful snails in the world.

They are native to West Africa, where they are considered a delicacy

But they are also known to carry a parasite with a rather threatening name: the rat lungworm. This parasite can cause meningitis, an inflammatory disease that affects the brain and spinal cord.

More than 2,800 cases of the disease have been reported in 30 countries, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In most cases, people who are infected have mild symptoms, such as a headache, stiff neck, and nausea, or no symptoms at all.

These snails also pose a potentially serious threat to the environment, damaging local ecosystems and buildings. They are known to eat at least 500 types of plants, but if fruits and vegetables are not readily available, they can turn into tree bark and even paint and stucco on houses.

They are also stubborn guests: once they arrive, it is difficult to get rid of them.

The species was first found in the United States, in southern Florida, in the 1960s, according to the USDA. It took 10 years and $ 1 million (£ 730,000) to eradicate them.

In 2011, snails made a comeback in Florida and efforts to eliminate them are underway again.

The process can be a race against the snail’s rapid reproductive system. A single giant African snail can produce around 1,200 eggs per year.

The July discovery by Houston border officials is one of some 250 parasites found at U.S. ports of entry every day.

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