What You Need To Know About Rat Lungworm Disease

Michelle Regan
May 01, 2017

You’ve probably heard a lot about rat lungworm disease lately. But should you be worried? Read on to find out what you need to know.

What is rat lungworm disease and why am I hearing about it all of a sudden?
Angiostrongyliasis, or rat lungworm disease, is a roundworm parasite that attacks the brain and spinal cord. Rats carry the parasite and pass it on in their feces, which is ingested by carriers like snails and slugs. Humans contract the disease when we consume contaminated plants that came into contact with infected snails and slugs.

You might be surprised to learn that rat lungworm disease has actually been present in Hawaii for 50 years. The reason we’re hearing about it so much recently is that there have been a higher-than-average number of cases reported. Normally, Hawaii sees less than 10 cases per year. In the past four months, there have been 13 diagnosed cases. The state has seen a steady uptick in the past five years, which has many residents concerned.

How can I tell if I have rat lungworm?
If you’re experiencing mild rat lungworm symptoms, you may think you have the flu. You’ll have a bad headache, a stiff neck, nausea, and your skin may become very itchy and sensitive. Symptoms will begin to appear within three weeks of exposure. It’s important to seek medical help as soon as possible since early detection can help relieve pain and lessen some symptoms. Rat lungworm can become quite serious, resulting in meningitis, temporary paralysis, or even death.

Can I get rat lungworm from eating local produce?
You can get rat lungworm from eating any infected produce, whether it’s local or not. Rat lungworm is more common in Hawaii than on the Mainland because of our tropical climate. We see more cases here because wet, tropical conditions are more favorable for slugs as well as plant life. But don’t be afraid to buy local — with a bit of caution, eating local produce is just as safe and supports our farm community.

How can I avoid getting rat lungworm?
Avoiding rat lungworm is as simple as inspecting and properly cleaning your fruits and vegetables. Be sure to take a close look at your produce and wash it thoroughly under running water before eating. It can be tough to see small slugs and snails, so make sure you carefully examine every leaf and stem. Don’t forget to check your veggies even if you’re cooking them, which should kill rat lungworm along with most other parasites.

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