Three visitors to Hawaii’s Big Island in recent months have been infected with rat lungworm disease, a potentially debilitating parasite, health officials say.
Hawaii’s Department of Health said Thursday it received confirmation from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control of the three cases and that they were unrelated.
The new cases bring the statewide total to five confirmed in 2019 and 10 in 2018, the health department said.
Angiostrongyliasis, or rat lungworm disease, is caused by a parasitic worm and can have severe effects on a person’s brain and spinal cord. Most people are infected when they accidentally consume one of the worms, the health department says.
Common symptoms include severe headaches and neck stiffness, but more serious cases can cause neurological problems, severe pain and long-term disability. According to the CDC, some cases can cause a rare form of meningitis.
The parasite, Angiostrongylus cantonensis, gets its name because it infect rats, who then spread their larvae in feces that are ingested by snails and slugs. Rats later eat the infected snails and slugs, and then the larvae mature to become adult worms, the CDC says.
In Hawaii, the three unrelated cases came from people ingesting both slugs and unwashed fruits or vegetables, health officials suspect.
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SOURCE: USA Today, Ryan W. Miller