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?