The global risk of infectious disease emergence from giant land snail invasion and pet trade

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Background: Pathogen outbreaks mostly originate from animals, but some species are more likely to trigger epidemics. The giant land snail (Lissachatina fulica) is a widespread invader, a popular exotic pet, and a notorious vector of the rat lungworm, causing eosinophilic meningitis in humans. However, a comprehensive assessment of the risks of disease outbreak associated with this species is lacking. Methods: We assessed and mapped the risk of disease transmission associated with the invasion and pet trade of L. fulica. First, we conducted a review of the scientific literature to list all known L. fulica parasites and pathogens and query host–pathogen databases to identify their potential mammalian hosts. Then, to assess the potential for L. fulica to spread globally, we modelled its suitable climatic conditions and tested whether, within climatically suitable areas, the species tended to occur near humans or not. Finally, we used social media data to map L. fulica possession as an exotic pet and to identify human behaviours associated with increased risk of disease transmission. Results: Lissachatina fulica can carry at least 36 pathogen species, including two-thirds that can infect humans. The global invasion of L. fulica is climatically limited to tropical areas, but the species is strongly associated with densely populated areas where snails are more likely to enter in contact with humans. In temperate countries, however, climatic conditions should prevent L. fulica's spread. However, we show that in Europe, giant snails are popular exotic pets and are often handled with direct skin contact, likely increasing the risk of pathogen transmission to their owners. Conclusions: It is urgent to raise public awareness of the health risks associated with L. fulica in both tropical countries and Europe and to regulate its trade and ownership internationally. Our results highlight the importance of accounting for multiple types of human-wildlife interactions when assessing risks of infectious disease emergence. Furthermore, by targeting the species most likely to spread pathogens, we show that it is possible to rapidly identify emerging disease risks on a global scale, thus guiding timely and appropriate responses. Graphical Abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.].




Gippet, J. M. W., Bates, O. K., Moulin, J., & Bertelsmeier, C. (2023). The global risk of infectious disease emergence from giant land snail invasion and pet trade. Parasites and Vectors, 16(1).

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