The Hawaii Department of Health has confirmed the first case of rat lungworm disease contracted on Oahu this year.
The case of rat lungworm disease was found in a toddler from Central Oahu.
The child became sick earlier this month and was hospitalized.
DOH found through a detailed investigation that the rat lungworm disease parasite was found in the child’s spinal fluid.
This is the fourth confirmed case statewide in 2018.
Recent reports of rat lungworm disease have been clustered on the Big Island and Maui.
But this recent case on Oahu is a reminder the parasite that causes the debilitating disease is found on every island.
“The only answer we can say, definitely – is this parasite exists statewide. Still,” said Dr. Sarah Park.
Park, the state’s epidemiologist, says it’s unclear if rat lungworm causes developmental problems later in life.
“Some kids will be fine, recover just fine. But other kids unfortunately, will suffer some sort neurological damage and only time will tell.”
Which is why, she says, it’s important for parents to watch their children and be mindful of what they put in their mouths.
“It’s not uncommon to think your property is safe, you let your kids run around or whatever. Keep things tidy around the property. Don’t have things that offer dark shade. A curious toddler will say ‘Oh, look at this!’ and find bug or slug and snail. We might go: ‘Gross!’ We’d never put it in our mouth. But to a toddler, they don’t see the world that way,” advised Park.
DOH provides the following recommendations to prevent rat lungworm disease:
- Inspect, wash and store produce in sealed containers, regardless of whether it came from a local retailer, farmer’s market, or backyard garden.
- Wash all fruits and vegetables under clean, running water to remove any tiny slugs or snails. Pay close attention to leafy greens.
- Control snail, slug, and rat populations around homes, gardens and farms. Get rid of them safely by using traps and baits, and always wear gloves for safety.