State health officials are investigating four possible new cases of rat lungworm disease on Maui.
In the past decade, there had been only two cases of the parasitic infection on the Valley Isle. Data show there were 60 cases in the last 10 years, with the vast majority of them on the Big Island.
Already this year, there have been two other cases of Maui residents contracting the disease, including one who may have been infected during a work trip to the Big Island. The state Health Department said two other visitors to Maui also got the infection and returned to their home states.
The increase in cases led to a standing room only crowd at a public information meeting Thursday night in Hana.
There is no cure for the disease, which usually affects rats -- thus the name -- and then is passed along to slugs and snails like those found in the garden.
"Even though it's just a few cases, it's still the fact that we received a few cases where we normally might see one in a blue moon on Maui. That makes us concerned that something has changed potentially on Maui to bring their risk of seeing the disease similar, closer to what we see on the Big Island, and trying to identify what that risk is an ongoing effort," said State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park.
Park also said the infection is preventable. People are being told to was fruits and vegetables thoroughly to get rid of any slug or snail larvae that could be infected with the parasite.