Big Island infant hospitalized on Oahu after getting rat lungworm disease

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The Hawaii Department of Health has confirmed a recent case of rat lungworm disease in an infant from the east side of the Big Island.

The infant was the sixth individual from the Big Island who tested positive for the disease in 2018, bringing the statewide total to eight cases confirmed last year. 

So far, there are no confirmed rat lungworm disease cases in 2019.

The infant became ill in early December and since then, has been transferred to Oahu and is hospitalized for further case management. 

DOH disease investigators are conducting a detailed investigation to learn more about the patient and possible sources of infection.

“Determining the exact source of infection for rat lungworm disease in any patient is difficult since it requires a deep dive into a person’s food consumption history,” said Health Director Bruce Anderson. “Infants can be even more complicated because they can’t verbalize their symptoms or what they ate. A parent or caregiver would have to see them picking up a slug or snail and putting it in their mouth. We know this is how most children who become ill with rat lungworm disease get infected, so it’s important keep our keiki away from these harmful vectors as much as possible.”

DOH provides the following recommendations to prevent rat lungworm disease:

  • Control snail, slug, and rat populations around homes, gardens and farms. Get rid of these vectors safely by clearing debris where they might live, and also using traps and baits. Always wear gloves for safety when working outdoors.
  • 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.

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