There has been a sudden increase in the number of cases involving a brain-invading parasite in Hawaii, health officials in Maui confirmed.
Six cases of rat lungworm disease have been reported in the state in the past three months so far, CBS News reports. Three have been established in while a seventh was reported by a woman from Maui who says she caught the disease on the Big Island, Dr. Lorrin Pang of the Maui District Health Office says.
Known scientifically as Angiostrongylus cantonensis, there have only been two recorded cases of rat lungworm disease in the past ten years. The disease is a condition where a parasitic worm carried by rats larvae enters a patient’s brain. The parasite is transmitted by snails and slugs.
The infection causes a rare type of meningitis that brings on severe headaches and stiffness of the muscles, painful tingling in the skin or limbs, fever, nausea and vomiting, the Department of Health Disease Investigation Branch says. Other symptoms include temporary paralysis of the face and sensitivity in parts of the body.
Pang says that authorities are still identifying how best to get rid of the slugs and snails that bring the disease. Smashing, burying or burning them does not repent rats from eating these slugs or snails, allowing the cycle to continue. He says,
The slug is easy to kill, but the parasite, it’s not so easy.
Dr. Sarah Park, state epidemiologist, says there is an average of 10 rat lungworm cases annually in Hawaii, and this spike is worrisome. Most of the cases have been concentrated on the Big Island.
Park adds, “If you could imagine, it’s like having a slow-moving bullet go through your brain and there’s no rhyme or reason why it’s going to hang out in this part of the brain or that part of the brain.”
Officials caution residents to prevent the disease from spreading by thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables before eating them.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no specific treatment for rat lungworm disease, but in most cases, the disease heals on its own.