State confirms first case of rat lungworm disease on Oahu since - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

State confirms first case of rat lungworm disease on Oahu since 2010

(Image: University of Hawaii) (Image: University of Hawaii)
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

The state has confirmed the first case of rat lungworm disease on Oahu since 2010.

The case brings the total number sickened by the disease, caused by a brain-invading parasite, to 16 so far in 2017.

The Oahu patient, the state Department of Health said, is hospitalized. The illness was confirmed late Tuesday.

Officials said the Oahu resident started experiencing symptoms of rat lungworm in July. 

Health Department staff started conducting "onsite property assessments" Wednesday morning in East Oahu.

Health officials looked for slug, snail and rat activity. Current findings do not show evidence of slugs or semi-slugs nearby.

The source of the individual’s infection is still unknown, officials said. They're looking into whether the patient traveled before falling ill, since the Big Island and Maui have both seen cases this year.

"We know that there are slugs and snails and rodents on all the islands with the parasite on all the islands, so I think from the public's standpoint, overall they should maintain that vigilance to properly inspect and wash and store their produce," said Keith Kawaoka, deputy director of Environmental Health.

The case of rat lungworm comes amid state plans to ramp up efforts to raise awareness about the infection — and what people can do to lower their risk of contracting it. Due to growing concerns, lawmakers set aside $1 million over two years. Most of the money will be spent on public education. The rest of the funds will be used for controlling rats, slugs, and snails, as well as a statewide study of the pests.

"It's always concerning to hear about a case because it's so devastating to the patient," said Kenton Kramer, chair of the governor's Joint Task Force on Rat Lungworm Disease. "This case puts more emphasis on making sure that we get the word out here on Oahu as well."

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Rat lungworm is a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord.

It's caused by a parasitic nematode that's only found in rodents. Rodents pass the larvae on in their feces, and other animals (including slugs or snails) can become infected. Humans can get sick when they inadvertently eat those intermediate hosts, usually on raw produce that hasn't been washed.

The disease causes a rare type of meningitis. Some people have no or mild symptoms. Others can become violently ill.

Those who do exhibit symptoms complain of severe headache and stiffness of the neck, tingling or painful feelings in the skin or extremities, low-grade fever, nausea, and vomiting. Sometimes, the disease can also cause temporary face paralysis  as well as light sensitivity.

To lower your chances of getting rat lungworm, health officials recommend:

  • Carefully inspecting, washing and storing produce in sealed containers.
  • Washing fruits and vegetables under running water, especially leafy greens, in order to remove any tiny slugs or snails.
  • Controlling snail, slug, and rat populations around your property, especially around home gardens.

This story will be updated.

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