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Community action alert: Minimize your risk of Rat Lungworm Disease

By BY CINDY SCHUMACHER - | May 4, 2017


“Rat Lungworm Disease, known to the medical community as Angiostrongyliasis, has been found in our district,” said Sen. J. Kalani English, Hawaii State Senate, Seventh District. “Therefore, we must take immediate action to control and eliminate the spread of the disease.”

The Maui District Health Office and the Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH) are presenting meetings throughout the community to help educate and prevent the spread of Rat Lungworm Disease.

There will be a community meeting in Lahaina on Monday, May 8, in the Lahaina Civic Center Social Hall from 5:30 to 7 p.m. to inform the public about safety measures and vector control practices to prevent the disease from spreading.

“There are many agencies working in this initiative,” said Lorrin W. Pang, M.D., district health officer. “Please come to the meeting and share the information with your friends, family and neighbors. We are providing testimony from officials on what rat lungworm is, its signs and symptoms, how you get it, how it is diagnosed, how it is treated, and how to prevent and control it.”

In March, the State Health Department confirmed a case of Rat Lungworm Disease on Maui and is currently investigating more cases. Tricia Mynar, a Maui preschool teacher, believes she got the disease from eating a salad while on the Big Island. While it cannot be confirmed how Mynar actually got the disease, the DOH reported that there have been about 58 recorded cases of rat lungworm throughout the state.

Rat lungworm is carried by rats and transmitted by snails and slugs. The adult parasite is found in rats. The infected rats can pass the larvae in their droppings. Snails and slugs become infected by eating the larvae. People can get the disease by eating raw produce (fresh fruits and vegetables) with tiny snails or slugs that have eaten the lungworms.

People might also get the disease from eating undercooked freshwater prawns and frogs that have become infected from water contracting the infected slugs and snails.

According to the State Department of Health Disease Investigation Branch website, Rat Lungworm Disease can affect the brain and spinal cord. The infection can cause a rare type of meningitis that triggers severe headaches and stiffness of the neck, tingling or painful feelings in the skin or extremities, fever, nausea and vomiting, coma and sometimes death. Temporary paralysis of the face and light sensitivity may also occur. There is currently no specific treatment for it. Patients diagnosed with it are prescribed antibiotics for infection, morphine and Oxycontin for pain.

“Therefore, our communities need to take immediate action through prevention and control of the disease,” Sen. English explained. “First, the community must control the rodent population by using appropriate traps. Secondly, DO NOT eat raw or undercooked snails or slugs, which may be in vegetables or on fruits.”

“Additionally, thoroughly wash and inspect fresh produce and vegetables, especially if eaten raw,” he added. “Finally, eliminate snails and slugs near houses and in the garden. If you have suspicious symptoms, see your physician. This is a preventable disease; caution and knowledge is powerful protection.”

For questions and information on the May 8 Lahaina meeting, call DOH at 984-8201.