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Hawaii island infant infected with rat lungworm disease

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The rat lungworm parasite can be transmitted by slugs and snails.

The state Department of Health has confirmed a new case of rat lungworm disease in an infant from Hawaii island.

Department officials said today that the infant became ill in early December and has since been transferred to Oahu for hospitalization. They did not divulge the infant’s condition.

This was the eighth confirmed Hawaii case of the disease — sixth on the Big Island — for 2018. There are no confirmed cases so far in 2019.

“Determining the exact source of infection for rat lungworm disease in any patient is difficult since it requires a deep dive into a person’s food consumption history,” Health Director Bruce Anderson said in a news release. “Infants can be even more complicated because they can’t verbalize their symptoms or what they ate. A parent or caregiver would have to see them picking up a slug or snail and putting it in their mouth. We know this is how most children who become ill with rat lungworm disease get infected, so it’s important keep our keiki away from these harmful vectors as much as possible.”

Rat lungworm disease, or angiostrongyliasis, is caused by a parasitic roundworm that can be transferred to humans via snails or slugs and can affect a person’s brain and spinal cord. Symptoms vary widely and may include headaches and neck stiffness. Serious cases may involve neurological problems, severe pain and long-term disability, health officials said.

The department has issued the following recommendations for preventing rat lungworm disease:

>> Control snail, slug, and rat populations around homes, gardens and farms. Get rid of these vectors safely by clearing debris where they might live, and also using traps and baits. Always wear gloves for safety when working outdoors.

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

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

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