Toddler from Big Island Contracts Rat Lungworm Disease, Hawaii’s 5th Case in This Year
Rat lungworm disease widespread in Hawaii. (Photo Credits: Capri23auto/Pixabay)

A toddler from East Hawaii has contracted rat lungworm disease, the state department of Health announced in a press release on Thursday, making it the fifth case in the state in 2018. In May, the Department of Health found Oahu’s first case of rat lungworm disease in a toddler from Central Oahu. The disease gets its name from the fact that the worm eggs hatch in the lungs of rats and is commonly associated with ingesting snails or slugs. Infected rats poop out the worm larvae, which the mollusks can then pick up and pass on to humans if eaten.

Laboratory results from a sample of the child’s spinal fluid confirmed evidence of the rat lungworm disease parasite. The toddler got sick in late July and was transferred to Oahu for further treatment. The child spent several days in the hospital and was later discharged upon improvement of the symptoms. Disease investigators with DOH are investigating the possible source of contraction.

“Our children move quickly and are naturally curious about the world around them, which is normal part of their early department,” Hawaii Island District Health Officer Aaron Ueno said in a press release. “We can reduce the risk of rat lungworm disease by controlling slugs and snails around our homes and gardens, and by keeping children away from these harmful vectors as much as possible. The risk of rat lungworm disease exists state-wide, and we can work together to take steps to prevent it in our communities.”

The disease causes a rare meningitis. Some people have no wild or mild symptoms. Others can become violently ill. DOH provides guidelines to prevent rat lungworm disease like getting rid of these vectors safely by clearing debris where they might live and using traps and baits. Always wear gloves for safety when working outdoors. Wash all fruits and vegetables under clean, running water to remove any tiny slugs or snails and store the produce in sealed containers, regardless of whether it came from a local retailer, farmer’s market or backyard garden.