According to health officials, Maui has seen a sharp increase in cases of rat lungworm disease in the past three months. Since only two cases have been documented in the past decade, there is much concern surrounding the sudden increase in infections. A seventh case involves a Maui resident, who isn’t for sure where she contracted the parasite, but believes it was on the Big Island.
Angiostrongylus cantonensis, rat lungworm, is prevalent is tropical Pacific islands and Southeast Asia. However, the distribution of the rat lungworm has been increasing, with infections being reported in areas, such as the United States, Caribbean and Africa.
The parasite invades the central nervous system and has been identified in cerebrospinal fluid of patients that have been diagnosed with eosinophilic meningitis. Rats carrying the disease will excrete the roundworm eggs or larvae in their feces, which is consumed by vectors, such as slugs, snails, crabs, frogs and freshwater shrimp.
People come in contact with the parasite, when they handle and consume contaminated produce, uncooked vectors and drinking water. The rat lungworm disease can be asymptomatic (without symptoms) or produce a wide range of symptoms, including vomiting, severe headaches, nausea, neck stiffness and abnormal tingling. The onset of symptoms will occur within 1 to 3 weeks after exposure and last anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks.
If the infection spreads to the brain, it can lead to eosinophilic meningitis, long-term neurologic dysfunction and death.
Health officials have identified the parasite in snails and slugs on Oahu, Kauai, the Big Island and Maui. Everyone is being encouraged to utilize proper hand washing techniques, wash produce thoroughly and thoroughly cook raw meet to destroy the parasite.
According to a 2015 study, the rat lungworm was found in Oklahoma, “an area predicted to lack suitable habitat for the parasite.” The researchers suggested that human-caused factors influenced the emergence and distribution of the disease. The human-caused factors included human encroachment into wildlife habitat, climate change and global travel.
A couple from San Francisco, visiting Maui in January contracted the disease, but recovered without suffering any long-term effects.