East Hawaii toddler diagnosed with rat lungworm

An East Hawaii toddler was diagnosed with rat lungworm disease, the state Department of Health said Thursday.

Lab results confirmed evidence of the parasite that causes the disease in the child’s spinal fluid. According to the DOH, the child became ill in late July and was taken to a local emergency room last week.

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The child spent several days in the hospital.

A detailed investigation to learn more about the patient and possible sources of infection is underway, the DOH said.

This is the third confirmed case of rat lungworm on the Big Island this year and the fifth statewide.

“Any case of rat lungworm disease contracted is concerning to DOH because of the severe and debilitating symptoms that some people experience after contracting the disease,” said Anna Koethe, public health coordinator with the DOH. “Overall, the total number of confirmed cases in Hawaii may seem small, but it is believed there are likely less severe cases that may go undiagnosed and unconfirmed, since symptoms can vary widely among individuals.”

Common symptoms include severe headaches and neck stiffness.

Koethe said the risk for contracting the disease in Hawaii exists in rats, slugs and snails statewide.

“Knowledge and awareness of the risks and how to prevent infection is crucial to helping people protect themselves and their families from this concerning disease,” she said.

According to the DOH, rat lungworm disease is caused by a parasitic roundworm and can affect a person’s brain and spinal cord.

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To prevent the disease, the DOH recommends controlling snail, slug and rat populations around homes, gardens and farms by clearing debris where they might live and using traps and bait; wearing gloves for safety when working outdoors; inspecting, washing and storing produce in sealed containers; and washing all fruits and vegetables under clean running water, paying close attention to leafy greens.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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