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Big Isle toddler contracts rat lungworm disease

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COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII

Slugs or snails infected with rat lungworm parasites can pass them along to humans who happen to eat all or part of the tiny animals, often on raw, unwashed produce.

The state confirmed today the fifth case of rat lungworm disease in a toddler from East Hawaii.

In May, the Department of Health found Oahu’s first case of rat lungworm disease this year in a toddler from Central Oahu.

The department would not say how the children contracted the disease, caused by a parasite that can move throughout the body and cause major damage to the nerves.

In 2017 the DOH confirmed 18 cases of rat lungworm and three probable cases. Most of the cases have been on Hawaii island. To confirm the disease, patients typically get a spinal tap to draw fluid that is tested for the presence of the parasite or its DNA. Cases are considered probable when patients exhibit symptoms of the illness but haven’t had a lab test.

This is the third confirmed case of rat lungworm disease contracted on the Big Island this year.

The DOH said the toddler started exhibiting symptoms in late July and last week was taken to the emergency room and subsequently hospitalized and transferred to an Oahu facility. The child was discharged after several days in the hospital. The Health Department is investigating possible sources of infection.

“Our children move quickly and are naturally curious about the world around them, which is a normal part of their early development,” Aaron Ueno, Hawaii Island district health officer, said in a news release. “The risk of rat lungworm disease exists statewide, and we can work together to take steps to prevent it in our communities.”

To prevent the spread of the potentially debilitating disease, the DOH recommends controlling the population of snails, slugs and rats around homes, gardens and farms. The department also urges residents to use traps and baits and wear gloves when working outdoors. People should also carefully inspect and wash produce, especially leafy greens, and store them in sealed containers.

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