Angiostrongylus cantonensis, the rat lungworm, probably evolved with its hosts, members of the genus Rattus and closely related species, in south-east Asia. Since its first discovery in rats in China and in a case of human infection in Taiwan. the parasite has been found to infect humans and other mammals across a wide and ever-increasing territory, which now encompasses much of south-east Asia, Melanesia. Polynesia and eastern Australia. It has also established a foothold in Africa, India, the Caribbean and south-eastern USA. This dispersal has been a direct result of human activity, and in some cases has been linked with the spread of the African giant land snail, Achatina fulica. However, this snail is not critical to the extension of the parasite's range, as numerous other indigenous molluscan species serve as adequate intermediate hosts; the importance of Achatina to the life cycle may have been over-emphasized. in Australia, the parasite is established along parts of the east coast, and the presence of an indigenous close relative, Angiostrongylus mackerrasae, suggests a long association of the parasite with its local rat hosts, a situation analogous to that of Angiostrongylus malaysiensis in south-east Asia. These three Angiostrongylus species share virtually the same life cycle, but only A. cantonensis has been confirmed to be a human pathogen. (C) 2000 Australian Society for Parasitology Inc. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.