California couple among Hawaii rat lungworm disease victims

Francis Osborne
April 13, 2017

They've been suffering from, a brain-infecting parasite. So far, there have been cases of the brain parasite "documented in over 30 countries", and some scientists believe the recent rise in cases "is just another effect of climate change". Though most cases are mild and resolve without antiworm drugs, symptoms can vary from headaches and neck stiffness to lasting neurological pain, coma, and death. Some patients have been forced to use walkers or canes due to the severity of the tremors caused by the parasitic meningitis. From there, the rats defecate worm larvae that are spread to other creatures like snails, slugs and freshwater shrimp. In past one decade only two cases were documented.

Many low-income areas around the world serve as transmission zones for tropical diseases, and scientists believe that many of them are not properly equipped for an outbreak.

CBS 5 reports that nine cases have been confirmed in Hawaii, with six on Maui, and the Hawaii Department of Health is now investigating four more.

"I$3 t's a worm infection introduced into North America through globalisation", virologist Peter Hotez from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston told Adrienne LaFrance at The Atlantic.

"They're just reporting numbers being discharged from hospitals, so they're missing all the other cases where people might go into a clinic and not a hospital", said Susan Jarvi, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

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Howe has said the medical community is not sufficiently aware of rat lungworm disease and doesn't know how to diagnose or treat it. The rat lungworm can live in the host's body for months, and it can cause inflammation from the body's immune response, which can ultimately damage the nervous system.

If people handle or consume any of these infected animals - or come into contact with them on contaminated food sources, such as raw fruit and vegetables - they too can become infected.

Rat lungworm disease starts out as a parasitic worm that invades the human brain. There is no specific treatment for the infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For example, poorly washed lettuce or other raw produce may contain an unnoticed snail or slug.

People do not become contagious, so they can not transmit the infection to someone else. After that, rat lungworm became prevalent in certain parts of Southeast Asia and Islands in the Western Pacific. The parasite, which normally lives in the lungs of rats after the rodents eat infected slugs and snails, enters the human body through traces of rat feces on poorly washed food, health experts explain. Though there have been no reported deaths, the number of cases has already overtaken the average one to nine typically seen within the state in recent years, according to Department of Health spokesperson Janice Okubo.

Other reports by TheDailyFarc

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