Funding measures to fight rat lungworm, little fire ants move forward

Bills providing funding to combat rat lungworm disease and little fire ants are making progress this legislative session.

On the issue of rat lungworm, two separate measures — House Bill 474 and Senate Bill 3097 — would fund laboratory tests at the University of Hawaii at Hilo to determine effective means for fighting the disease, which is caused by a parasitic nematode that’s most commonly transmitted to humans via slugs and snails.

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HB 474, introduced by Rep. Chris Todd, D-Hilo, passed the House on Friday and was transmitted to the Senate. SB 3097, introduced by Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, Ka‘u, cleared the Senate on Tuesday.

The measures say the disease, which can cause death or chronic disability, infected at least 11 people on Hawaii Island last year, in addition to six on Maui and one on Oahu.

The funds would support tests on effective means for deworming rats to reduce transmission, commercially available produce washes, commercially available filters and ultraviolet systems for use in catchment systems and new blood-based tests for diagnostics.

The parasites originate in rats and are passed on to slugs and snails via their droppings. People can become infected by eating unwashed raw produce that contains infected slugs or slime trails.

Researchers at UH-Hilo’s Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy are considered Hawaii’s experts on this disease.

Funding intended to support the college’s work was directed to the state Department of Health last year instead.

Meanwhile, SB 2124 would support seven full-time positions at UH’s Hawaii Ant Lab based in Hilo. That bill also passed the Senate on Tuesday.

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The rat lungworm and fire ant bills don’t specify dollar amounts.

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