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Health department confirms 2 new rat lungworm cases

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A semi-slug on a nickel on the Big Island. The Hawaii Department of Health has confirmed two additional rat lungworm disease cases in the state.

The Hawaii Department of Health officials today confirmed two additional rat lungworm disease cases in the state.

The separate cases involve an adult Maui resident and an adolescent visiting Hawaii island from New York.

Health officials said the Maui resident became ill in mid-February and was briefly hospitalized. Department officials said the individual was most likely infected on Maui but had a history of traveling to Oahu and Hawaii island during the time when the infection may have occurred.

In the other case, the adolescent was on Hawaii island in January and was hospitalized after returning to New York later that month.

Laboratory tests confirmed angiostrongyliasis, or rat lungworm disease, in both cases, bringing the total of three confirmed cases of the disease in Hawaii this year. The first case involved an adult West Hawaii resident.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park said, “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.”

>> Click here for related coverage of rat lungworm disease

“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,” Park said in a news release.

Officials confirmed 18 cases statewide last year.

The rat lungworm disease is caused by a parasite, Angiostrongylus cantonensis, and can have debilitating effects on a person’s brain and spinal cord. “In Hawaii, most people who become ill with the disease accidentally ingested a snail or slug infected with the parasite,” the health department said.

Common symptoms include severe headaches and neck stiffness. Serious cases involve neurological problems and severe pain and disability.

Officials recommend the following tips to prevent rat lungworm disease:

>> Inspect, wash and store produce in sealed containers, regardless of whether it came from a local retailer, farmer’s market or home garden.

>> Wash all fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens, under clean, running water to remove any tiny slugs or snails.

>> Get rid of any snail, slug and rats around homes, gardens and farms by using traps and baits. Officials advise the public to wear gloves for safety.

For more information on rat lungworm disease and prevention, visit: http://health.hawaii.gov/docd/disease_listing/rat-lungworm-angiostrongyliasis/.

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