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Rat lungworm is a disease that has sickened nearly 100 people on Hawaiʻi Island throughout the past decade and is caused by a parasitic nematode (a kind of worm) found in the pulmonary arteries of rats. It is commonly transmitted to humans when parasite eggs in rat feces are eaten by snails or slugs, which are accidentally ingested by humans through unwashed produce or in water.

rat lungworm
The nematode Angiostrongylus cantonensis is a rat lungworm, a zoonotic pathogen which causes rat lungworm disease

In an effort to increase public awareness of rat lungworm disease, and minimize risks of contracting it, a pharmaceutical sciences professor from the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo spearheaded publishing layperson friendly research and an informational video.

“Research on ways to reduce human risk of infection is also critical, including mechanisms and tools to better educate the public,” said Professor Susan Jarvi, of UH Hilo’s Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy. “That’s why we felt it was important to share the results of these scientific studies with the general population in a less technical, more accessible format.”

The 40-page publication is available in a reader-friendly format in Parasitology featuring a variety of topics related to the disease.

Jarvi’s latest publication is the result of research summarized by scientists from eight countries who presented their findings at the 6th International Workshop on Angiostrongylus and Angiostrongyliasis in Hilo in January 2020. According to Jarvi, who also serves as head of the Hawaiʻi Island Rat Lungworm Working Group, international workshops held every two to three years are crucial for advancing research and knowledge regarding diagnosis and treatment. The events also help hone in on research relating to infection and transmission levels in humans, and the expanding range of infection in non-human species.

Online program available

UH Hilo is currently offering an online education program on rat lungworm disease prevention. Jarvi and researcher Kay Howe lead a course on the parasite’s life cycle and how to reduce risk of infection. The course is available to the public and also includes continuing education credits for healthcare professionals. Learn more about the program at the Jarvi Lab website.

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