Don’t panic over rat lungworm disease

Rat lungworm disease.

The name just sounds awful. And it is nothing you want to deal with and, chances are, you won’t have to — as long as you take the most basic of precautions, which the latest two people who contracted this disease did not.

What they did was consume a homemade drink contaminated with slugs. We hope they are on the road to recovery and feeling better. What they did, based on reports, seems a bit careless.

The adults on Hawaii’s Big Island drank kava, an elixir made from the roots of a plant that can calm nerves and deepen sleep. They left the kava out overnight in uncovered buckets and noticed the slugs after drinking it. That was unfortunate.

Worst, they were not alone.

Another four adults who drank the same homemade kava are suspected of having the disease.

“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,” said state Health Director Virginia Pressler.

A little background on rat lungworm disease: It is caused by a parasite found in rodents, which can pass the parasite to snails, slugs, crabs and other critters.

The disease, which affects the brain and spinal cord, can cause nausea, vomiting, severe pain and temporary paralysis. Symptoms can last a few weeks or months, but the parasites eventually die, according to the Hawaii Department of Health.

There have been 11 confirmed cases of the disease in Hawaii this year.

It seems unlikely this disease could spread, which is a message the Hawaii Tourism Authority wants to get out there. Like any agency whose primary job is to attract visitors, HTA wants to alleviate any fears about rat lungworm, because it could unnecessarily hurt tourism, and we all know tourism is what drives Kauai’s economy.

George D. Szigeti, HTA president and CEO, wants to reassure Hawaii’s tourism industry and visitors planning trips to the Hawaiian Islands that rat lungworm disease is very rare and easily preventable.

“Some national media attention has been devoted recently to rat lungworm disease in Hawaii, raising concerns among visitors and groups planning trips to the Hawaiian Islands,” he said. “It is important that people not overreact and gather reliable information before making any assumptions.”

HTA is simply saying that there is no reason to fear getting this disease as long as you use common sense like washing, preparing and storing food. Even more simply put, don’t drink something you left outside overnight that was contaminated by slugs.

So, there is no need to be overly concerned. Rat lungworm disease is uncommon and easily preventable.

Numbers bear this out.

Hawaii has 1.4 million residents and had nearly nine million visitors last year. On average, one to 11 cases of rat lungworm disease are reported annually, according to the Department of Health.

Just be careful about what you eat. And drink.


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