Re: Information on Rat Lungworm Disease in Hawai‘i
April 20, 2017
In 2017, Hawai‘i has experienced an unusual spike in rat lungworm infections, a rare disease most commonly found in Asia and the South Pacific.
As the Hawai‘i State Department of Health has emphasized, this disease is easily preventable by properly washing and storing food before eating.
At a news conference on April 19, State Health officials said consumers have nothing to fear when dining out, as restaurants and retail operations follow rules and regulations for food service.
Hawai‘i, which has 1.4 million residents and welcomed more than 8.9 million visitors in 2016, typically reports between one to 11 cases of rat lungworm disease annually.
The Department of Health is currently monitoring 11 confirmed cases of rat lungworm disease reported this year, with several additional suspected cases being investigated. Of the confirmed cases, six are from Maui, involving four residents and two visitors, with five residents from the island of Hawaii.
Rat lungworm disease, or Angiostrongyliasis, is an infection caused by a parasitic worm in rats, slugs and snails that is passed on to people under unusual circumstances.
People get infected by eating raw or undercooked snails or slugs infected with the parasite, or from eating raw produce (such as lettuce) that contains a small snail or slug or part of one.
Most recover fully without treatment. There is no medication or specific treatment for the disease. In the most severe cases, people can be afflicted with pain, neurological problems, and disability.
The Department of Health advises that people can prevent rat lungworm infection from occurring by using common sense precautions in the handling of food, including:
Appropriately storing, inspecting and washing all food, especially produce.
Washing local produce thoroughly – no matter where it comes from – before eating.
Being diligent in controlling the spread of slugs, snails and rats on properties, especially if one maintains a home garden.
Watching young children while they play outdoors to prevent them from putting a snail or slug in their mouth.
Travel to Hawai‘i
Leisure travelers or business groups can book their Hawai‘i trips with confidence, as no travel health advisories have been issued related to rat lungworm disease.
For past Special Alert notices, click here.