Sixth case of rat lungworm disease confirmed in Hawaii

Local News

The Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) has received notification from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of a laboratory-confirmed case of angiostrongyliasis, or rat lungworm disease, in an adult visitor to Hawaii Island.

With the additional case confirmed by CDC, this brings the statewide total to six cases of individuals confirmed with angiostrongyliasis in 2019. This includes three residents and three visitors all of which likely contracted the disease on Hawaii Island.

The sixth individual was an adult resident of the U.S. mainland and was traveling in West Hawaii when they were infected with the parasite causing rat lungworm disease. The individual became ill in early February and was hospitalized on the mainland for a short time for their symptoms. The investigation was not able to identify an exact source of infection. However, they reported eating a lot of fresh fruits and not washing them all before eating them.

“Washing fresh fruits and vegetables carefully no matter where they come from is an important step to preventing rat lungworm disease,” said Dr. Sarah Park, state epidemiologist. “Thoroughly inspecting and rinsing produce under clean, running water is the most effective way to remove pests and other contaminants.” 

DOH provides the following recommendations to prevent rat lungworm disease:

  • 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 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.

Angiostrongyliasis, commonly known as rat lungworm disease, is caused by a parasitic roundworm and can have debilitating effects on an infected person’s brain and spinal cord.

In Hawaii, most people become ill by accidentally ingesting a snail or slug infected with the parasite. Symptoms vary widely between cases, and the most common ones include severe headaches and neck stiffness. The most serious cases experience neurological problems, severe pain and long-term disability.

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