2 new cases of rat lungworm include child visiting from New York

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state is investigating two new cases of rat lungworm disease, including one in which a child from New York got sick.

The state Health Department said the confirmed cases are in addition to one involving a West Hawaii resident earlier this year.

Officials said one of the new cases was in a Maui resident who became ill in mid-February and was briefly hospitalized. An investigation determined that the patient likely became infected in Maui, but also traveled to Oahu and the Big Island.

The child visiting from New York had traveled with family to the Big Island in January and stayed for seven to 10 days, officials said.

The patient was hospitalized after returning home in late January.

"These recent cases are a reminder that the risk of rat lungworm disease exists statewide and we all need to take precautions to prevent infection," Dr. Sarah Park, the Health Department's state epidemiologist, said in a statement.

"We can all do our part to eliminate risks around our homes, gardens, and farms by controlling rats, slugs and snails, especially during the rainy season. Inspecting and thoroughly washing produce under clean, running water can go a long way in preventing rat lungworm disease."

Kenton Kramer, chair of the state rat lungworm task force, added that it's not just leafy greens that pose a risk.

"It also could be fruit that's soft and sat outside where a slug and snail could get at it," he said.

Rat lungworm affects the brain and spinal cord, and is caused by a parasite 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.

This story may be updated.

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