Parasite in paradise: Rat lungworm disease confirmed in three Hawaii visitors

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Rat lungworm disease has affected a minimum of three visitors in the state of Hawaii recently. This has brought the total number of cases to ten for the year of 2018 and five so far in 2019. This is according to the Department of Health in Hawaii.

The three cases were confirmed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are considered unrelated.

All five of the cases in 2019 occurred in Hawaii on what is known as the Big Island, which is one of many islands in Hawaii.

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A parasitic infection causes the disease, which is often not severe and typically goes undetected.

However, the disease can be dangerous because it can significantly affect a person’s brain and spinal cord. Symptoms will vary, and the most common are extreme headache and stiffness of the neck. The most serious cases can observe problems neurologically, in addition to extreme pain and the development of long-term disability.

The exact time of infection in unknown for the latest three people to be infected.

One of the individuals infected last year became sick after intentionally eating a slug on a dare. According to the Department of Health, most people do become infected while accidentally eating a snail or slug that is infected with the parasite.

The illness will typically last between two weeks and two months on average.

According to Heather Stockdale Walden, assistant professor of parasitology at Florida University, rat lungworm disease has been endemic in Hawaii for roughly fifty years.

The parasite is able to mature fully in rats. Slugs and snails found in gardens can serve and intermediate hosts. This allows the parasite to grow to a stage capable of causing infection but unable to reproduce.

When the parasite finds its way into the human body, it can get lost. In a few cases, it will find its way to the brain.

When the parasite goes to the brain, meningitis occurs. Meningitis is a swelling of the thin membrane covering the spinal cord and brain. The parasite may also move to the eye, causing ocular angiostrongyliasis. If this occurs, surgical removal may become necessary. The best cases feature only mild sickness and getting better over time. Lastly, the disease is not contagious.

The Health Department is warning residents and visitors of prevention methods concerning the disease.

Among the recommendations are to wash all fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens, thoroughly and using clean running water in order to remove any slugs or snails. It is also important to prevent snails, slug, and rats from finding shelter in homes, gardens, and/or farms by eliminating debris where they may seek shelter and using traps to capture them.

The Health Department is also warning people to wash and store produce in closed containers regardless of its origin.

A 2014 research paper revealed that approximately eighty percent of land snails carry the parasite, which was first discovered in 1935 in China. After its discovery it spread to Asia, Australia, the Americas, and the pacific islands. More than 2,800 cases of human infection have been cited in thirty countries.

Anyone worried than they could have the parasite in their system is advised to consult a health care professional.

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