While it is normal for the state of Hawaii to experience about 10 cases of rat lungworm disease each year, a recent spike in diagnoses has caused widespread alarm. Six patients have been infected with this brain-invading parasite in just the past three months.
The rat lungworm is a parasitic worm that is carried by rats and can be transmitted to humans by slugs or snails, particularly on unwashed fruit and vegetables. Its larvae can infect the human brain, causing a rare type of meningitis called angiostrongyliasis, which causes a variety of symptoms, including a stiff neck and back, a severe headache, tingling of the skin, unusual sensitivity and pain, sensitivity to light, nausea and vomiting, hallucinations, and for some people, even coma and death. (RELATED: Stay in the know at Outbreak.news)
In addition to unwashed fresh produce, other potential causes of infection are under-cooked or raw snails, crabs, frogs and freshwater prawns.
The CDC notes that there is no specific treatment for this condition, though medical treatment can alleviate some of the symptoms and perhaps shorten the duration of the illness.
Local health officials have had a hard time trying to curb the disease because the slugs are incredibly invasive, and rats will eat them even after they have been buried or burned.
“The slug is easy to kill, but the parasite, it’s not so easy,” said Dr. Lorrin Pang, Maui’s district health officer.
Residents have been advised to carefully wash all fresh fruit and vegetables in clean water. However, since using just clean water does very little to remove pesticides on fresh produce, it is unlikely that it would be enough to get rid of this dangerous parasite.
The following veggie wash will do a much better job of cleaning fresh fruit and vegetables properly: Mix one cup of water with half a cup of white distilled vinegar in a large bowl. Place your fruit or veggies in the bowl and allow to soak for at least 30 seconds. Rinse under cool running water for a further 30 seconds.
— Mix one cup of water with half a cup of white distilled vinegar in a large bowl;
— Place your fruit or veggies in the bowl and allow to soak for at least 30 seconds;
— Rinse under cool running water for a further 30 seconds.
In addition to working carefully with their fresh produce, Hawaiians are also being warned to boil frogs, crabs, snails and freshwater prawns for at least three to five minutes before eating. Snails and slugs should not be touched barehanded, and catchment tanks should be covered so that nothing can get inside. Rodent control measures might also need to be put in place, though toxic chemicals should be avoided by those trying to protect their long-term health even while dealing with the immediate concerns raised by the disease.