Seventh Statewide Case Of Rat Lungworm Confirmed

Oct 9, 2019

A Mainland visitor to the Big Island who fell ill is the state's seventh confirmed case of rat lungworm disease this year.

The Hawaii Department of Health says all seven cases were likely contracted on the Big Island.

Rat lungworm is a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. In Hawaii, it is most commonly contracted by ingesting a snail or slug infected by a parasitic roundworm. The snails and slugs are themselves infected by consuming rat feces.

In the latest case, the visitor contracted the disease in June, but did not go to the doctor until the end of July. While investigators were unable to confirm where exactly the visitor was infected, the visitor traveled in West Hawaii and ate a large amount of fresh produce, according to the state Department of Health.

Sarah Park, the state epidemiologist, explained that visitors should be careful to eat only at establishments with the proper Department of Health permits.

“Salads are safe in Hawaii, but make sure you’re frequenting an established food vendor with an actual placard from the DOH… as opposed to ordering a roadside smoothie from a popup vendor who has no licensure,” Park said.

HDOH recommends carefully washing produce leaf-by-leaf, controlling snail and slug populations and wearing gloves while working outdoors.

Park emphasized that the best way to avoid rat lungworm disease is by cooking produce.

“Cooking things will always obviate any risk from an infection,” she said.

More information on avoiding the disease is available on the department's website.