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After alarming symptoms, a Big Island teen is diagnosed with rat lungworm disease

Updated: Feb. 27, 2021 at 5:46 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Big Island teen with non-verbal autism has contracted rat lungworm disease and doctors say he could have gotten the brain invading parasite from contaminated water.

Abigial Risica said her 19-year-old son, Zander began to show symptoms on Feb. 9.

She said he has a history of chronic ear infections that prompted a trip to the hospital. His ear was treated, but was not tested for rat lungworm disease.

Several days later, they returned to the ER after his symptoms failed to improve.

Zander and Abigail received the rat lungworm diagnosis and he was admitted for 24 hours.

“I just took him again last night to the ER because he hadn’t had a bowel movement, he has been peeing,” said Abigail. “He can’t get up to go to the bathroom properly, he’s in excruciating pain.”

Because Zander is non-verbal, the single mother of five has always been his voice.

Abigail said the doctor thinks Zander may have contracted the disease from the water catchment system at the home they’re renting in Keaau.

“But before this, he was very mobile, very agile, very, you know, go go go, he’s a sweetheart but he doesn’t understand,” said Abigail. “So, possibly drinking from the faucet without you know, and that can happen anywhere.”

Dr. Sue Jarvi is the professor of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at UH Hilo. She’s also part of the governor’s task force on rat lungworm disease.

Jarvi said there have been cases where people have gotten infected drinking out of a water hose from the catchment tank, from a filter that has not been changed recently or a catchment tank that is not maintained.

“We tested actually only five filters which is a small sample size, but it was enough to indicate that you know, not all filters, block 100% Rat Lungworm larva,” said Jarvi. “Even though the filter size is smaller than the larva, you know, so you wouldn’t think it would go through.”

“But I think getting proper faucet locks is definitely going to need immediate happening,” said Abigail. “So, this can’t happen again, because it can happen again.”

Doctor Jarvi recommends the homes to have multiple UV water filters for water coming into the home from catchment tanks.

She also advises people to thoroughly clean and cook or freeze produce.

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