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What is rat lungworm disease and how to prevent it?

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Rat lungworm disease has existed in the islands for years and few people know much about the parasite that makes its way into fresh produce.

Over the past 10 years, Hawaii has had 78 confirmed cases of kungo rat worm. In 2017, 20 people contracted rat lungworm. In 2022, there have only been three cases.

Recently, a young girl contracted the disease and was hospitalized for almost four months.

The majority of cases identified in Hawaii have occurred on the Big Island, officials said.

What is this?

Rat lungworm is also known as Angiostrongylosis. Disease caused by a parasitic nematode found only in rodents.

Scientists say the parasite clings to snails, slugs and some other animals, including freshwater shrimp, land crabs and frogs.

Humans can become ill when they inadvertently eat these intermediate hosts, usually on raw produce that has not been washed.

Rat lungworm is a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord.

Signs and symptoms

Experts say the disease can cause a rare type of meningitis, an infection and inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

Symptoms can vary but often look like:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Light sensitivity
  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Constant headache
  • Neck stiffness and pain
  • Tingling or burning skin
  • Dual vision
  • Intestinal or bladder difficulties
  • Seizures

Symptoms typically begin one to three weeks after exposure to the parasite, but have been known to vary from one day to six weeks after exposure.

Symptoms usually last between two and eight weeks.

How is rat lungworm diagnosed?

Doctors often offer a presumptive diagnosis based on exposure history, clinical signs and symptoms consistent with rat lungworm, and a laboratory finding of a particular type of white blood cell.

There is no specific treatment for this disease.

The parasites cannot mature or reproduce in humans and will eventually die.

But in the meantime, patients can become very ill – and medical professionals can usually only offer “supportive treatments” and painkillers.

People experiencing symptoms should speak to their doctor for more information.

MORE: Researchers achieve potential breakthrough in fight against rat lungworm disease

How to prevent it?

A new report from the University of Hawaii says rat lungworm is commonly spread by slugs and snails that leave slime on fresh produce.

Experts advise washing all fruits and vegetables well before consuming them. And if you plan to eat slugs or snails, they must be well cooked.

Scientists say the parasites are no longer contagious once the slime dries.

Also, don’t let your children drink from the pipe.

That’s because slugs carrying rat lungworm disease can wrap themselves in garden hoses and transmit the brain-invading parasite through the water.

Gn En gealth

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