UH to hold rat lungworm awareness day for small farmers

UH to hold rat lungworm awareness day for small farmers
Updated: Apr. 28, 2017 at 4:08 PM HST
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WAIMANALO, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The State Department of Health says it has confirmed two more cases of rat lungworm disease in Hawaii.

The parasite carried by rats and transmitted to humans through contact with snails and slugs. The condition, in which parasitic worm larvae infect victim's brains, can cause severe headaches, hallucinations and nausea.

The disease is raising concern throughout Hawaii's farming community. Now the the University of Hawaii's College of Tropical Agriculture is sharing some important tips with backyard gardeners.

"Here on Oahu, we haven't seen too much of it, its not too prevalent," said Jari Sugano, a field agent with the school.

At a Waimanalo Research Station, Sugano is planning an information field day for smaller growers to help share ways to fight rat lungworm spreading.

"We feel that it's our mission to take this information out to the community, because its timely just to show what they can do keep their garden produce safe," Sugano said.

The parasite causes a rare type of meningitis. Some people who contract it 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.

The symptoms usually start one to three weeks after exposure to the parasite, but have been known to range anywhere from one day to as long as six weeks after exposure.

"I think its something that we all need to be aware of as farmers and definitely our new farmers," said Jay Bost, a farm coach with "Go Farm Hawaii."

Sugano says the top four ways for smaller growers to guard against rat lungworm are the same methods used by large scale farmers.

The first thing to do, she says, is manage the rats around your property using baited traps and rat poison.

"The second thing would be to manage your slugs and snails, really, to bring that population down," Sugano said. "Instead of commercial products, you can also just use things like Hawaiian salt. People utilize beer, this is the old fashioned way people used to take care of slugs."

Slugs and snails, Sugano said, are attracted to the yeast in the beer and drown once they fall into the liquid.

Third, Sugano says, is to be selective in what you harvest. If it looks like a slug or snail has been on the produce, throw it away.

And lastly -- common sense -- always wash your vegetables.

"It doesn't have to be fancy, you don't have to put any special chemicals in there, just a simple wash," Sugano said.

The U.H. rat lungworm field day happens tomorrow in Waimanalo, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. It's free and open to the public.

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