August 21, 2006

Snails cause meningitis in Beijing

BEIJING (Reuters) - Eating raw or half-raw snails has led
to almost 40 people in Beijing coming down with meningitis,
state media said on Monday, and the same species is being
blamed for destroying a huge swath of rice crops.

Around half of the victims had eaten a dish made with the
Amazonian snails at a chain of Sichuan restaurants, the China
Daily said.

"The large, black snails are a hot-selling aquatic product
in big Chinese cities like Beijing," Xinhua news agency said,
adding that those falling sick had been infected by parasitic
eel worms.

But the problem does not end there.

"Amazonian snails ... are now being blamed for killing
crops on more than 160,000 hectares" (617 sq miles) in the
southwestern autonomous region of Guangxi Zhuang, Xinhua said.

"Farmers near seven cities in Guangxi have reported an
invasion of Amazonian snails in their paddy fields.
Agricultural experts said rainy weather, brought by this
summer's typhoons, created ideal conditions for the snails."

China has been struggling to control a rise in the number
of food-related health incidents.

In 2004, a major health scandal erupted when China revealed
that at least 13 babies had died from malnutrition in the
country's impoverished eastern province of Anhui after being
fed fake baby milk.

And several cases of bird flu in humans, which has infected
21 people, have been traced back to people eating sick birds.