County Council members support rat lungworm research

The Hawaii County Council will chip in $16,500 from members’ contingency funds to support rat lungworm disease research.

Sue Jarvi, a professor at University of Hawaii at Hilo’s Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy, said the money will be used to test whether an agent is effective in marking dead cells in the parasitic nematodes that cause the illness.

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She said it’s not enough to see if they are wiggling or not, which is why researchers want to see whether a stain, in this case propidium iodide, can help them distinguish between live and dead parasites.

Jarvi said it’s a fairly small experiment but it is needed before testing methods for killing the nematodes. They are most commonly passed on to people through eating raw produce contaminated by infected slugs.

“It’s kind of a steppingstone study,” she said. “And we’re very happy the County Council stepped up to the plate to provide the funding.”

The council approved the expenditures Wednesday via six resolutions, one for each contributing council member.

Testing vegetable washes and other methods for killing the nematodes will require additional funding, Jarvi said. She said she also wants to test whether ultraviolet light is effective at ridding them from catchment water.

U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will conduct the council-supported study with help from the university, Jarvi said. The funds will be passed through Malama O Puna since they have to go to a nonprofit organization.

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The resolutions say the funds will be used to help pay for a technician’s wages, supplies and tools.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.