Christina Chitty, a director of public information at FDACS, told CNN that snails pose a risk to human health because they carry a parasite called rat lungworm, which can cause meningitis.
They can produce up to 2,500 eggs per year so numbers are difficult to control.
According to Chitty, the population in Pasco County can be traced back to the illegal pet trade. It is illegal to own the African giant snail as a pet in the United States. But some exotic pet owners still keep the pests out. If owners dump them in the wild or accidentally lose them, they can quickly build a foothold, eating over 500 different plant species and even consuming paint and mortar outside the home as a source of calcium.
Chitty said the department is currently censusing and determining how many snails there are in Pasco County. This snail is native to eastern Africa and can grow up to 8 inches long.
The quarantine went into effect June 25 and prevents residents from moving snails or related items, such as plants and soil, into or out of a designated quarantine area. Residents who think they have spotted a giant snail in Africa should call the FDACS hotline and avoid touching the snail without gloves because of the risk of meningitis.
According to Chitty, FDACS plans to spend three years wiping out populations in Pasco County, using the pesticide metaldehyde to treat the soil.
“The goal is to get rid of the snails completely,” says Chitty. “It’s a comprehensive and far-reaching process.”
While snails in Miami-Dade County have gray flesh, snails in Pasco County have white flesh, Chitty said.