The crippling Rat Lungworm disease is spreading in Hawaii. That’s according to a new study by the “Journal of Wildlife Diseases.” Coqui frogs and centipedes on Hawaii Island are among a number of species that can carry the parasite.
Dr. Susan Jarvi of UH Hilo says almost everything they tested for Rat Lungworm in new research came up positive, especially coqui frogs.
“We tested 24 coquis and 87 percent of them came up positive.” Dr. Jarvi said.
The disease causes stiffness of the neck, severe headache, pain or tingling in the skin or extremities, low-grade fever, and nausea or vomiting.
It’s not understood if coqui frogs can transmit the parasite to humans.
“What role infected frogs have in the transmission cycle I can’t really say but rats eat frogs, rats eat centipedes, and so once it gets back into the rat you’re just infecting more and more rats.” Dr. Jarvi said.
Centipedes, another pest of the isles, also came up positive. It is unknown if animals higher up the food chain can also be infected and transmit to humans.
“I have chickens myself and they’re eating slugs all of the time and I’ve never seen any indication of disease, so I don’t know that chickens or ducks get sick from eating the infected slug I haven’t seen that or seen any indication of disease.” Dr. Jarvi said.
Studies elsewhere have shown that even crabs can host the parasite.
“In terms of any shrimp or crabs or anything I wouldn’t eat it raw. I would make sure it’s really well cooked.” Dr. Jarvi opined.
A new over-the-counter treatment has been found by UH Hilo student John Jacob to paralyze the L3 larva, which would allow humans to pass it through the gastrointestinal tract. Pinworm medicine will be undergoing clinical studies in rats next year, but UH Hilo recommends it as a treatment currently after accidental exposure.
“Over the counter cheap you can buy it at any drug store and it paralyzes the larva.”
In 2019 there were 8 confirmed cases on Hawaii Island and 1 on Kauai. Jarvi says the parasite can be found on any of the Hawaiian Islands, but with 94% of rats testing positive for Rat Lungworm on Hawaii Island, it’s here to stay.
“To be here on the Big Island with these high infection rates it’s not going to go away.”