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After Sam Ballard’s Death, Should Parents Be Worried About Kids Eating Slugs?



A man has died at the age of 29, almost a decade since he became paralysed after eating a slug as a dare.

Australian student Sam Ballard had eaten a slug while drinking with his mates when he was just 19. He later contracted lungworm, a parasitic worm typically found in rats (it’s thought the slug had eaten rat faeces and had become infected).

Ballard spent over a year (420 days) in a coma after developing a rare form of meningitis called eosinophilic meningoencephalitis. The infection impacted his brain meaning that when he finally awoke from the coma, he was paraplegic. He died on 2 November of this year, The Sunday Project’s Lisa Wilkinson reported.

His story is devastating and it raises the question for parents of small children: could eating worms or slugs prove deadly or is this a one-off case?

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The first thing to note is that the slug which Ballard ate was found in Australia, which has different animals and parasites to the UK.

“The slug he ate was infected with a type of worm called Angiostrongylus cantonensis which only lives in the South Pacific and East Asia,” paediatrician Dr Keir Shiels told HuffPost UK. “This worm caused his devastating meningitis. This does not happen in the UK.”

All the same, it’s not wise for your kids to eat slugs or other creepy crawlies found in the garden. Although stopping them from doing so is easier said than done.

“Stopping kids from putting things in their mouths is impossible,” Dr Shiels added. “And it’s understandable that parents will be concerned. More often than not there will be a suspicion that a child has swallowed ‘something’ rather than something specific.”

He said as long as nothing is stuck in their throat, act safely. “Do not try to make your child vomit. Give your child something to drink and check that their tetanus and polio vaccinations are up to date (look in their ‘red book’),” he explained.

If your child develops a fever, starts vomiting or suffers abdominal pain, you should take them to A&E immediately. 

Dr Shori, an NHS and private GP, said both slugs and worms can carry multiple bacteria that can make people unwell. There’s also a risk of them coming into contact with dangerous pesticides, which are not safe for humans if ingested.

“Eating slugs or worms from the garden will generally not cause any major illness but as this rare case has shown, it is possible,” said Dr Shori. “Some children, especially younger ones, can be tempted to eat things they see in the garden and it is important to educate them that it is not safe to do so.”

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