Health officials issue warning on rat lungworm disease

| May 5, 2017 | 0 Comments

Karen A. Iwamoto
Staff Writer

HONOLULU — The Hawaii State Department of Health is stressing that locally grown produce is safe to eat, despite an uptick in reports of rat lungworm disease in the state.

“(Just) remember to wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly no matter where they come from,” said Janice Okubo, the state Health Department’s public information officer.

The state Health Department has confirmed that as of April 28, it was investigating 13 cases of rat lungworm disease on Maui and the Big Island.

Seven of the cases this year occurred on the Big Island and involved residents of that island, and six occurred on Maui. Two of the Maui cases involved visiting tourists, and the remaining four involved residents.

Additionally, the Health Department is investigating four probable cases of the disease on the Big Island. In those cases, the individuals likely became infected after drinking homemade kava that had been left outside in uncovered buckets, according to the DOH. The individuals noticed a slug at the bottom of one of the bowls after they had consumed the kava.

“The department is continuing to monitor this serious illness spread to individuals through infected snails and slugs,” said the state Health Department’s director, Dr. Virginia Pressler. “Cases like this recent cluster are especially concerning because they can be prevented with basic precautions such as storing food in covered containers and properly inspecting and washing food before eating.”

This diagram illustrates how rat lungworm disease is transmitted to humans. (Image by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention)

This diagram illustrates how rat lungworm disease is transmitted to humans. (Image by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention)

Commissary produce inspected

Brad McMinn, director of the Schofield Barracks Commissary, confirmed that all of the produce there is inspected by the supplier and by the state health inspector.

“Just make sure you wash all of your fruits and vegetables and use common sense when buying produce from roadside venders and at farmers markets,” he added.

The Army’s Public Health Activity Command-Hawaii confirmed that its food inspectors check the commissary’s produce upon receipt and again before it is placed on shelves for shoppers. Unprocessed fresh fruit and vegetables are currently exempt from the commissary, and the commissary’s supplier of produce only buys from reputable commercial farms.

What it is

Rat lungworm disease is an infection caused by a parasitic roundworm found in rats. It is spread to humans through snails and slugs that come into contact with infected rat feces and then contaminate produce and water that is consumed by humans. Humans infected with rat lungworm disease may contract eosinophilic meningitis, which can lead to permanent brain and nerve damage or even death.

The symptoms

•Severe headaches.

•Stiffness in the neck.

•Fever.

•Tingling or pain on the skin or extremities.

Because symptoms may vary, seek medical attention if you believe you may have been infected.

How to protect yourself

•When cooking snails and prawns, boil them for at least 5 minutes.

•If you grow fruits and vegetables in a home garden, try to eliminate rodents and slugs from the vicinity.

•Wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly before eating them.

•Wash your hands before handling food.

•If you buy fruits and vegetables directly from a farm or vendor at a farmers market, inquire about practices the farm/vendor has in place to avoid contamination.

Resources

For more details, visit the following sites:

• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/angiostrongylus/index.html.

• Hawaii State Department of Health at health.hawaii.gov.

• University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at https://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/pdf/FST-35.pdf.

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Category: News, Safety

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