Slugs are common backyard creatures, often found in gardens or on sidewalks after rainy weather. Their soft, slimy bodies make them intriguing to touch, especially for curious children. However, there are several risks associated with touching slugs that are important to consider.
Can you get sick from touching a slug?
Yes, handling slugs can potentially make you sick. Here are some of the main health risks:
Slugs and snails can carry parasites like rat lungworm that can infect humans. Rat lungworm larvae live in slugs and snails as an intermediate host. If a human ingests infected slugs or snails, or accidentally swallows something that touched their mucus, they can become ill.
Slug mucus contains bacteria that can be harmful if it enters the body through the mouth, nose, eyes, or an open wound. Some bacteria found on slugs include E. coli, Salmonella, and Leptospirosis. These can cause gastrointestinal issues if ingested.
Certain slug species secrete defensive toxins that can irritate human skin. Handling these types of slugs can result in a temporary rash or burning sensation on the skin.
Can slug slime hurt your skin?
For the most part, simply getting slug slime on your hands is not dangerous. The mucus itself does not harm healthy skin. However, there are a few risks:
- Skin irritation – Slug mucus can cause mild, temporary skin redness or itching in sensitive individuals.
- Allergic reaction – Rarely, some people may have an allergic response with swelling, rash, or hives.
- Cuts – Slug mucus in open wounds could potentially transfer bacteria and cause infection.
As long as you have no open cuts on your hands and wash them afterwards, briefly handling a slug is unlikely to pose any skin hazard.
When is it unsafe to touch slugs?
There are certain situations where handling slugs becomes more unsafe:
Eating uncooked slugs
Putting live or uncooked slugs in your mouth significantly raises the risk of becoming seriously ill from parasites or bacteria.
Touching eyes, nose, or mouth
Transferring slug mucus to your eyes, nose, or mouth after touching increases chances of infection.
People with weakened immune systems are more vulnerable to slug-borne illnesses. Those with chronic health conditions should be especially cautious.
Not washing your hands thoroughly after slug contact makes it easier for bacteria to enter the body.
Cuts and scrapes
Open wounds or broken skin allow slug bacteria quick access to the bloodstream, raising infection risk.
Who is at highest risk from touching slugs?
The following groups have a higher chance of becoming sick if they handle slugs:
- Young children
- Elderly individuals
- Pregnant women
- Those with compromised immunity
- Anyone with open cuts on their hands
Children often play outside and are prone to put unwashed hands or other objects in their mouth, raising their risk of swallowing slug mucus. The elderly, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals also have weaker defenses against infection.
What diseases can you get from slugs or snails?
Here are some of the main health concerns linked to slug and snail contact:
Rat lungworm disease
Caused by a parasitic roundworm infection. Can lead to meningitis, neurological problems.
Bacterial infection usually causing diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps.
E. coli infection
Bacteria that can cause gastrointestinal illness, urinary tract infections, pneumonia.
Bacterial disease leading to fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, vomiting.
Inflammation of the membranes surrounding the spinal cord and brain. Caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites.
What should you do if you touch a slug?
If you handle a slug, follow these precautions:
- Wash your hands immediately with soap and warm water.
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap is unavailable.
- Avoid touching eyes, nose, or mouth before washing up.
- Wash any fruits or vegetables the slug crawled over.
- Use gloves when handling dead slugs or emptying slug traps.
- Supervise small children after slug contact to prevent hand-to-mouth transfer.
How do you safely get rid of slug slime?
To remove slug mucus from skin, clothing, or surfaces:
- Wash hands with soap and water. Use a scrub brush on skin if needed.
- Machine wash any mucus-stained clothing separately in hot water.
- Disinfect surfaces using a chlorine bleach solution.
- Wear gloves when wiping up slug residue.
- Rinse produce that may have slug slime with clean water.
Can slug slime have benefits?
Remarkably, some studies have revealed beneficial properties in slug mucus:
Certain slug secretions have shown antimicrobial activity against some bacteria, yeasts, and fungi in lab tests.
Researchers are studying whether chemicals in slug glue could have medicinal applications, like accelerating wound healing.
The adhesive and hydrating aspects of slug mucus have attracted interest from cosmetic companies.
However, given the potential safety risks, slug slime is not widely used. More research is still needed on any therapeutic effects.
Here are some key points to remember about handling slugs:
- Slugs may carry parasites, bacteria, or toxins harmful to humans.
- Thorough hand-washing after contact is recommended.
- Children and those with weakened immunity are at higher risk for illness.
- Consuming raw or undercooked slugs is extremely dangerous.
- Saliva, mucus, or damaged skin can transfer slug-borne diseases.
- While slugs have some beneficial properties, they are not widely used therapeutically.
Slug mucus itself is generally harmless to intact human skin. But slugs can potentially transmit parasites, bacteria, toxins, and viruses that cause illness if swallowed or introduced through a cut. Simple precautions like hand washing significantly reduce the health risks of handling these backyard creatures. Supervise children closely outdoors and teach them never to put slugs in their mouth. While slug mucus may offer cosmetic or medicinal benefits, the risks of use currently outweigh the unproven advantages. With proper hygiene and common sense, it is possible to safely interact with slugs while admiring these soft, slippery gastropods in the garden.