Three more rat lungworm cases confirmed

Three unrelated cases of rat lungworm disease in Big Island visitors have been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

All three individuals are adult mainland residents and were traveling in Hawaii when they were infected with the parasite causing rat lungworm disease, the state Department of Health said Thursday.

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One individual visited East Hawaii in December 2018 and became infected by purposely eating a slug on a dare.

That individual became ill in late December and was not hospitalized for their symptoms.

The adult visitor was the eighth person infected on Hawaii Island who tested positive for rat lungworm in 2018, bringing the statewide total to 10 confirmed cases last year.

The other individuals confirmed by the CDC laboratory were traveling on the west side of Hawaii Island during their visits.

One individual became ill in early January and was not hospitalized for their symptoms. It is not known how the individual was infected, however, they do remember eating many homemade salads while on vacation, the DOH said.

The other individual became ill in late February and was hospitalized for a short time.

According to the DOH, an exact source of infection was not identified, but the individual likely became infected while “grazing,” or eating unwashed raw fruits, vegetables and other plants straight from the land.

There have now been five confirmed cases of rat lungworm this year, all of which were contracted on the Big Island.

“It’s important that we ensure our visitors know the precautions to take to prevent rat lungworm disease, which can have severe long-term effects,” Health Director Bruce Anderson said.

“Getting information to visitors about the disease is just as critical as raising awareness amongst our residents.”

The DOH provides information to visitors traveling to Hawaii with signage in local airports and shopping centers.

Rat lungworm, or angiostrongyliasis, is caused by a parasitic roundworm and can affect a person’s brain and spinal cord.

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In Hawaii, most people become ill by accidentally ingesting a snail or slug infected with the parasite.

For more information about rat lungworm, visit bit.ly/DOHratlungworm.

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