The Hawaii Department of Health has confirmed new cases of rat lungworm in Hawaii Island which likely stemmed from consumption of contaminated Kava drink, a brew made from piper methysticum plant consumed to promote relaxation.
Kava Drink Left Overnight In Uncovered Container
Of the six who drank the homemade brew in Keaau, two are confirmed infected by rat lungworm and the four others are highly likely to have also contracted the illness.
The six drank Kava that had been sitting outside all night in an uncovered bucket. When they finished consuming the drink from a large bowl, they discovered a slug at the bottom of the container.
All six adults were hospitalized and their illness reported to the department of health. It is not clear though what type of slug caused the infection.
Health authorities said that cases such as this are particularly concerning because these can be prevented by observing precautionary measures such as storing food in covered containers and inspecting food before eating, healthy habits that can provide protection against food contamination and serious illnesses.
"The department is continuing to monitor this serious illness spread to individuals by infected slugs and snails," said Health Director Virginia Pressler. "Cases like this recent cluster are especially concerning because they can be prevented with basic precautions."
The DOH likewise reminded the public to inspect and thoroughly wash produce especially leafy greens, and to supervise young children who play outdoors to prevent them from putting organisms that carry the virus into their mouth.
Rat lungworm is an infection caused by the parasitic worm Angiostrongylus cantonensis. The parasite lives in the blood vessels of rats' lungs but their larvae get expelled with the rodents' excretions. Snails, slugs, and other animals that eat the rat droppings can then pass the parasitic worms to humans.
How Rat Lungworm Infection Spreads
Health authorities said that the infection, which is typically prevalent in the Pacific Islands and Southeast Asia, is not spread from human-to-human. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that it can be contracted with ingestion of raw or undercooked infected snails or vegetables, salads, and other foods that were contaminated by slime of infected snails or slugs.
"It is possible that ingestion of raw or undercooked transport hosts (freshwater shrimp, land crabs, frogs, etc. ) can result in human infection, though this is less certain," the CDC said.
"In addition, contamination of the hands during the preparation of uncooked infected snails or slugs could lead to ingestion of the parasite."
Symptoms To Watch Out For
Common symptoms of infection include severe headache and neck stiffness but health authorities urge the public to seek medical attention if they experience stiff neck, fever, headache, and tingling or painful sensation in the skin or extremities. In serious cases, infection can lead to severe disability and neurological problems.
Health officials said that controlling the population of snails, slugs, and rats is a crucial step to fight the spread of the disease especially around home gardens.