Andrea Rodriguez, Associated Press
Published Monday, September 30, 2019 12:29
Last updated Monday, September 30, 2019 11:29 AM
HAVANA – Silently and without pause, the giant African snail is invading Cuba.
With their shells and shiny bodies and bright stripes of up to 20 cm in length, snails have become the number 1 public enemy, as epidemiologists and citizens have come to fear their ability to transmit disease and damage crops.
"I've never heard of them before, but now they're everywhere," said Yusmila Marin, a 29-year-old nurse who lives in a shellfish-filled neighborhood whose scientific name is Achatina fulica.
In recent months, the Cuban authorities have activated the national civil defense system to combat snails. But some say the state's response is inadequate.
Marin and families in the Villa Panamericana neighborhood are keeping children indoors to play because of the danger of snail infection, which can transmit a potentially serious brain infection called meningoencephalitis and an abdominal condition known as angiostrongyliasis.
First detected in Cuba in 2014, the snail can now be found in Havana and in almost every province of the island. It is not known how the snail arrived in the country.
It is also found in countries around the world where it has had similar destructive effects.
Health officials have asked people to collect snails without touching them with their own hands and then to destroy them in sealed containers. But they still say it will take some time to control the infestation.
The snail has no natural predators in Cuba and eats fruits, vegetables and even trash, allowing for rapid proliferation.
"It's a health, economic and ecological problem," said Isbel Diaz, a biologist who runs a non-governmental environmental group in Havana.
Diaz said many people were doing their best to help, but without proper training or equipment they were not collecting or destroying the snails safely.
"It's a real challenge," he said. "No country has been able to control this plague and Cuba will not be able in the short or medium term."