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Rat and lungworms
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Rat and lungworms
Lungworm image, Qvarnstrom

As of late April 2017, the Hawaiʻi Department of Health had confirmed 13 cases of rat lungworm disease since the start of the year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the parasitic worm (Angiostrgonylus cantonensis) can invade the central nervous system and cause a rare form of meningitis.

The University of Hawaiʻi is addressing rat lungworm in diverse ways across the island state, including assessing its distribution statewide, determining which species of snails and slugs can carry it, doing experiments to determine the best ways to wash produce to keep it safe and undertaking extensive educational and outreach efforts.

Six UH faculty members serve on the Governor’s Task Force on Rat Lungworm Disease, established in 2016, and reflect a wide range of expertise.

As the name implies, the rat lungworm is a parasite only of rats and a few other rodents. Infected rats pass the larvae of the parasite in their feces, which are then eaten by snails and slugs. Humans are accidental hosts who do not transmit infection to others, but can become infected by eating raw infected snails or slugs (or parts of them), which are often accidentally left on produce that has not been sufficiently washed.

“Rat lungworm is a horrible disease and we need to work collaboratively and collegially with all to do the best for the people of Hawaiʻi,” said UH President David Lassner.

Resources for education and prevention

The State Department of Health and UH have a range of resources on rat lungworm available online. Some of these include:

“Prevention of rat lungworm disease is a statewide priority and the Department of Health is working with partners from federal, state and county agencies as we continue our investigation of reported cases,” said Health Director Virginia Pressler. “The University of Hawaiʻi has been a valuable partner in our efforts to learn more about this rare and serious disease.”

—By Kelli Trifonovitch

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