Hawaii sees 16th case of rat lungworm disease

Hawaii health officials on Tuesday identified the first case of rat lungworm disease on the island of Oahu in 2017. The new case brings the state total to 16 for the year. The individual affected by the most recent case has been hospitalized.

The rare disease is caused by a parasite known as Angiostrongylus cantonensis, which is often carried by rats. In humans, the parasite causes a disease called angiostrongyliasis, which affects the brain and spinal cord and can often present as bacterial meningitis. Symptoms vary but often include neck stiffness, vomiting, nausea and headaches. Infections are most commonly associated with consuming raw or undercooked slugs and snails, which feed on the feces rats.

"This is a serious disease that can be acquired on any of our islands because slugs and snails throughout the state carry the parasite responsible for the illness," said Dr. Keith Kawaoka, deputy director of environmental health with the Hawaii Department of Health. "This is a grim reminder that we all need to take precautions when working in our gardens and on farms, and eliminate slugs, snails and rats from our communities to reduce the risks posed by this parasitic disease."

The illness typically lasts from two to three weeks and does not usually require treatment. However, serious complications related to the infection can occur, sometimes causing neurological dysfunction or death, according to the CDC.

In April, Janice Okubo, a spokeswoman for the Hawaii Department of Health, told CNN the state typically receives reports of one to nine cases of rat lungworm disease each year. In 2007, two deaths were linked to the parasitic infection.

More articles on infection control: 
Cholera vaccine efficacy among adults is nearly twice the rate among children 
CDC warns of surge in Cyclospora parasitic infections — 200+ cases reported since May 
Florida county sees 2nd case of flesh-eating bacteria

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