The state Health Department said Tuesday there has been another laboratory-confirmed case of rat lungworm disease in an adult visitor to Hawaii island, the seventh so far this year.
Of the seven cases confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2019, three are residents and four are visitors, all of who likely contracted the disease on Hawaii island.
The seventh individual was an adult U.S. mainland resident traveling in West Hawaii when he or she was infected with the parasite causing rat lungworm disease. The individual became ill in late June and did not seek medical care until the end of July after reccurring dizziness, and was hospitalized on the mainland for a short time.
Officials were not able to identify an exact source of infection. However, the individual reported having grown a number of herbs on a lanai, and eating a lot of fresh, local produce without washing it.
“Thoroughly inspecting and rinsing all fresh fruits and vegetables under clean, running water can go a long way in making our food safer to eat, and it is the most effective way to remove pests and other contaminants,” said state epidemiologist Sarah Park. “When in doubt, cooking food by boiling for three to five minutes or heating to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 seconds can kill the parasite that causes rat lungworm disease.”
Angiostrongyliasis, commonly known as rat lungworm disease, is caused by a parasitic roundworm, Angiostrongylus cantonensis is found in rodents that can pass along the larvae of the worm in their feces. It can have debilitating effects on an infected person’s brain and spinal cord.
In Hawaii, most people become ill by accidentally ingesting a snail or slug infected with the parasite thereby ingesting larvae of the worm.
Symptoms vary widely, but the most common ones include severe headaches and neck stiffness. The most serious cases experience neurological problems, severe pain and long-term disability.
The Hawaii Department of Health provides the following recommendations to prevent rat lungworm disease:
>> Wash all fruits and vegetables under clean, running water to remove any tiny slugs or snails. Pay close attention to leafy greens.
>> 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.
More information about rat lungworm disease and how to prevent its spread is available from the DOH website.