Four probable cases of rat lungworm infection have been detected on the Big Island.
Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Friday the cases are disturbing because the disease is usually found during the winter season.
East Hawaii epidemiological specialist Marlena Dixon says rat lungworm is a parasite that causes a rare form of meningitis and is difficult to diagnose because of a wide array of symptoms.
Symptoms can include severe headaches, nausea, vomiting, neck stiffness and numbness.
In a severe 2009 case former Big Island resident Graham McCumber spent three months in a coma.
Dixon says the disease can be contracted when people mistakenly eat small slugs on the surface of leafy green vegetables.
Slugs and snails become carriers when they eat feces of rats carrying the parasite.
Contributed by Alan Rudo
I’ve lost my confidence in buying local lettuce after purchasing a head of Romaine with a slug inside from a vendor at Pahoa’s Farmer’s Market this past Sunday. What really makes me angry was the labeling, which read, “Hamakua Springs:Certified Food Safety.” It wasn’t until, I went to wash the lettuce, that I discovered the slug inside the plastic wrapping. I am disgusted to think that I stored this deadly slug inside my refrigerator for even a few hours. Thankfully, I discovered the slug before anyone consumed the lettuce. I contacted the grower Hamakua Springs and told them how upset and disappointed I naturally am because rat-lung disease kills people. Their reply was more pathetic than I imagined, “We go to a lot of trouble trying to address the rat lungworm issue. I went to the community meeting at Kalapana Sea View Estate, about rat lungworm disease, in early 2009. We take this issue very seriously.” This was followed with an explanation on the rat-lung cycle and oh, yeah, “we’re sorry.” Here I’m trying to buy local, support the farmers and I get lettuce labeled, “Certified Food Safety,” which might have killed someone. Where is the oversight? Where are the inspectors? Why are they able to call their product “Certified Food Safety?
Posted: Feb. 4, 2010
A cluster of recent cases of disease in Hawai’i caused by eating fresh produce contaminated with snails or slugs infected with the nematode parasite Angiostrongylus cantonensis, the rat lungworm, has drawn attention to this foodborne threat, which can cause eosinophilic meningitis. A publication on preventive measures to reduce spread of rat lungworm infection on farms is now available from the UH Mānoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR).
According to the publication by authors from CTAHR, the UH Pacific Biosciences Research Center, and USDA, slugs and snails become infected with rat lungworm in two ways. Most commonly, the slug or snail will eat contaminated rat feces. Less commonly, the nematode burrows into the slug or snail through the body wall or enters through a respiratory pore when the animal comes into close contact with the contaminated feces. Other vectors of infection include frogs, freshwater shrimp, and land crabs.