Hawaii warns tourists about parasite that can infest human brains

Brittany A. Roston - May 30, 2019, 5:56 pm CDT
Hawaii warns tourists about parasite that can infest human brains

If you’re planning a trip to Hawaii, be mindful of what you eat, the state’s Department of Health states in an advisory published last week. Officials are ramping up efforts to warn tourists about rat lungworm disease, an illness caused by a parasite that can infest human brains. The advisory follows an alert from the CDC that confirmed three new rat lungworm cases all linked to Hawaii.

The infection caused by the parasite is officially called angiostrongyliasis, but is more commonly known as rat lungworm disease. Individuals who contract this parasite can experience severe long-term health consequences, including disability and extreme headaches. Fortunately, these cases are relatively rare, with only 10 total confirmed cases in Hawaii last year.

Officials in Hawaii released an advisory on May 23 alerting the public to three new rat lungworm cases, which were reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One case was identified in December 2018, another in January 2019, and yet another in February 2019. All three individuals had been in Hawaii in 2018 prior to the onset of their symptoms.

This parasite is most often contracted by eating infected snails or slugs, though it can also be acquired from rats. One of the three affected individuals identified by the CDC acquired the parasite after eating a slug on a dare. The second individual may have become infected after eating salads, and the third after ‘grazing’ on plants sourced from the wild.

The Hawaii Department of Health plans to increase its educational awareness efforts, ensuring visitors know the risk of contracting the parasite and steps they can take to prevent it. According to officials, individuals in Hawaii should wash all fruit, vegetables, and leafy greens, paying careful attention for any tiny snails or slugs.

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