Visitor who ate a slug on a dare among latest confirmed cases of rat lungworm

Visitor who ate a slug on a dare among latest confirmed cases of rat lungworm
A parasite is responsible for rat lungworm disease. Humans typically contract it after ingesting a small slug. (Image: University of Hawaii)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state has confirmed three additional cases of rat lungworm disease in visitors to the Big Island.

The three adults contracted the disease separately ― and months apart.

One of the visitors got sick after purposely eating a slug on a dare while visiting East Hawaii in December 2018, the Health Department said.

The visitor brings the number of rat lungworm cases in Hawaii last year to 10.

The two other new cases were among individuals who visited the west side of the Big Island.

One of the visitors got sick in January, but was not hospitalized. It’s not known how the individual got infected, but the Health Department said the visitor ate “many homemade salads” while on vacation.

The other visitor got sick in February, and was hospitalized. The Health Department said the individual likely got sick while “grazing” for fruits and vegetables.

The two cases this year bring to five the number of people who have fallen ill with rat lungworm so far this year. All five cases 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,” said Health Director Bruce Anderson.

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

To cut down on the risk of getting rat lungworm, the state recommends:

  • Washing all fruits and vegetables under clean running water to remove any tiny slugs or snails.
  • Control snail, slug, and rat populations around homes, gardens and farms.
  • Inspect, wash and store produce in sealed containers.

Rat lungworm disease is caused by a parasitic roundworm and can have debilitating effects on an infected person’s brain and spinal cord.

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

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