Health officials said Friday that Hawaii’s first confirmed case of rat lungworm disease in 2020 has been detected on Maui.
There were a total of nine cases in 2019, according to the state Department of Health.
The latest case is a Maui resident who sought treatment and was hospitalized at Maui Memorial Medical Center, said health officials, who added that their investigation has not able to identify the source of infection.
Rat lungworm disease, or angiostrongyliasis, is caused by a parasitic roundworm and can have debilitating effects on an infected person’s brain and spinal cord, according to a Health Department news release. Most people become ill by accidentally ingesting a snail or slug infected with the Angiostrongylus cantonensis parasite, officials said.
“In the midst of the COVID-19 situation, we need to also be mindful of other diseases such as rat lungworm,” Dr. Lorrin Pang, Maui District health officer, said in the news release. “With many people starting their own home gardens for self-sustainability, we’d like to remind everyone to thoroughly inspect and rinse all fresh fruits and vegetables under clean, running water. For added prevention, cooking food by boiling for 3 to 5 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.”
Symptoms vary widely but often include severe headaches and neck stiffness, while the most serious cases experience neurological problems, severe pain and long-term disability, officials said.
To prevent rat lungworm disease, they advise:
>> Control snail, slug, and rat populations around homes, gardens and farms by clearing debris where they might live, and by using traps and baits. Wear gloves while working outdoors.
>> Inspect, wash and store produce in sealed containers, regardless of whether it is 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, and pay close attention to leafy greens.