Health authorities in Hawaii have confirmed that the Big Island had three additional cases of rat lungworm disease over the past six months.
Tourists Contract Rat Lungworm In Hawaii
In a statement released on May 23, the Hawaii Department of Health said the three individuals contracted the disease separately and months apart, but all were American tourists visiting from the U.S. Mainland.
In one of the cases, the infected individual contracted the disease after eating a slug on a dare. The person fell ill after eating the slug in December 2019, but was not hospitalized.
The second patient remembered eating homemade salads prior to getting ill and the third patient ate unwashed fruits and vegetables straight from the ground.
How Rat Lungworm Parasite Infects Humans
Rat lungworm is caused by the parasitic roundworm Angiostrongylus cantonensis that infects rats' lungs. Only rodents carry the adult form of the parasite but they can pass the worm larvae on in their feces.
The bug can be passed on once snails, slugs, and other organisms such as frogs, shrimps, or crabs eat the larvae. Humans can catch the parasite if they eat raw or undercooked host.
The can also get infected by consuming raw produce such as leafy greens, sweet potatoes, and herbs, or water contaminated by a slug or snail.
"It's important that we ensure our visitors know the precautions to take to prevent rat lungworm disease, which can have severe long-term effects," said Health Director Bruce Anderson in a statement. "Getting information to visitors about the disease is just as critical as raising awareness amongst our residents."
Rat Lungworm Infection Potentially Deadly
Infection can trigger a rare type of meningitis and other symptoms such as nausea, neck stiffness, vomiting, and headaches. Patients may also experience abnormal sensations in the arms and legs, sensitivity to light, and temporary paralysis in the face.
The symptoms often emerge one to three weeks after an individual is infected, and often last between two to eight weeks.
The infection, however, may have effects that continue longer. In 2018, for instance, former rugby player Sam Ballard died from rat lungworm caused by a garden slug he swallowed for a dare eight years earlier.