Invasive, dangerous New Guinea flatworms found in Florida

Species found in Cape Coral and Miami

CAPE CORAL, Fla. - A potentially deadly worm found in Florida on Thursday is raising concerns about how it got here and how to keep them out.

It's an invasive species called the New Guinea flatworm and was discovered last year in Miami, now local and state officials are investigating.

It was big news last year when these worms were found in Miami, now we're learning they were also spotted in Cape Coral last September, we just didn't know.

Now a Cape resident has found some of those worms in a flower pot and that has officials launching a serious investigation.

Fort Myers-based WFTX showed photos of the worms to Roy Beckford, an agriculture agent in Lee County who works with the University of Florida.  "They're a dark worm with a dorsal orange stripe down the center of their back," says Beckford.

The worms may look harmless, but mix in a rat or two and a person could be affected by a deadly disease affecting the brain and spinal cord. That's why officials need help finding them.

Beckford said state officials "have a phone number that one can call to report this problem and they'll send an agent to actually deal with that. This is very serious, this is very serious.”

He said the New Guinea flatworms originate in that South Pacific island. They're likely shipped to Miami, hidden with the plants and tropical fruits.

The worm infects rats and that's when it can be passed on to humans, potentially causing meningitis and other horrible diseases.  

"If you have long worms basically you start this horrible coughing. It's a parasite in your lungs that needs to be treated," Beckford said.

Beckford said people should not touch the worms.

“It can actually cause problems on your skin because it actually vomits up this caustic substance than can cause problems," he said. 

But the biggest threat these flat worms pose is to the eco-system.  Since they have no natural predators they multiply and destroy everything from snails and lizards to native trees and vegetation.

Beckford said the worms could potentially wipe out other native species.

If you see these worms, take photos, then contact FWC at 888-IVE-GOT1.

You can them kill the worms by pouring boiling water on them.

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