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Hawaii’s first rat lungworm case of 2018 confirmed on Big Isle

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Humans can contract rat lungworm disease by eating food contaminated with slugs or snails, or their slime.

State Department of Health officials said today they have confirmed the first rat lungworm disease case of the year in an adult resident of Hawaii island’s west side.

The individual became seriously ill this month and is being treated at a hospital, according to the department. Laboratory results confirmed evidence of the rat lungworm parasite in the individual’s spinal fluid, officials said.

However, Health Department officials said they are unable to determine the exact source of the infection despite a detailed investigation. They also said the department cannot provide more specific information on the individual’s case.

“This is a reminder for everyone to take precautions and control snail, slug, and rat populations in and around properties, and especially home and school gardens and farms,” said Aaron Ueno, Hawaii District Health Office administrator, in a news release. “We know that slugs, snails, and rats in all counties carry the parasite that can cause rat lungworm disease, and rain with wet conditions often brings more of these garden pests.”

In 2017, there were 17 laboratory-confirmed cases of rat lungworm disease statewide.

Rat lungworm disease (angiostrongyliasis) can have debilitating effects on an infected person’s brain and spinal cord, according to the department. The disease is contracted when a person becomes infected with the parasite Angiostongylus cantonensis. It can occur when a person accidentally consumes raw or undercooked, infected slugs or snails, the department said.

The most common symptoms include severe headaches and neck stiffness, but symptoms may vary. The most serious cases include neurological problems, pain and severe disability.

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