The Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed a case of rat lungworm disease in a toddler from Central Oahu. The child became ill earlier this month and was hospitalized. DOH conducted a detailed investigation and laboratory results confirmed evidence of the rat lungworm disease parasite (Angiostrongylus cantonensis) in the child’s spinal fluid.
This is the first confirmed case of rat lungworm disease contracted on Oahu this year and the fourth confirmed case statewide in 2018.
“Young children explore the world around them by putting things in their mouths as a natural part of their early development,” said Health Director Dr. Virginia Pressler. “As parents and caregivers, we can help ensure their safety by being mindful of where our children play and what they may be putting in their mouths. The risk of rat lungworm disease exists statewide and we can all take steps to help prevent it by working together to reduce the risks in our own communities.”
Rat lungworm disease (angiostrongyliasis) can have debilitating effects on an infected person’s brain and spinal cord. The disease is endemic to Hawaii and is contracted when a person becomes infected with the parasite Angiostongylus cantonensis. In Hawaii, this occurs when a person accidentally consumes raw or undercooked infected slugs or snails. The most common symptoms include severe headaches and neck stiffness, but symptoms may vary widely among cases. The most serious cases experience neurological problems, pain, and severe disability.
DOH provides the following recommendations 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 backyard garden.
• 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 them safely by using traps and baits, and always wear gloves for safety.