Three people have contracted rat lungworm disease while visiting Hawaii, state health officials announced Tuesday.
The grotesquely-named disease is the result of a parasitic infection that occurs in humans after they ingest animals or foods hosting the roundworm.
Known in the scientific community as angiostrongyliasis, rat lung worm can wreak havoc on the human digestive and nervous systems, even causing paralysis.
Humans tend to get it after eating unclean slugs – often on dares.
The three newly confirmed cases in Hawaii bring the state’s total to 10 for 2018, officials said in a statement.
Rat lungworm, or antiostrongyliasis (pictured) is a parasite that can be transmitted to humans if they eat raw slugs or snails. Three more 2018 cases have been confirmed in Hawaii
While exploring the lush lands of the Hawaiian islands, one might be tempted to a pluck a pineapple or papaya, or even a wild ‘escargot.’
But rat lungworm disease should be reason enough to resist the temptation. Be sure to wash any fruit or vegetables before you enjoy them.
One traveler that fell ill admitted to ‘grazing’ during their trip to Hawaii and, while it’s not clear what the exact source of their illness was, he or she may have gotten the parasite from eating unwashed, wild-picked food.
While snacking off the land in Hawaii, the person may have unwittingly eaten a sickly slug, or part of one.
The parasite angiostrongyliasis preys exclusively on rats, but once they are infected, this can trigger a series of events that can lead to human infection.
Feces from infected rats can contain rat lungworm larvae.
Slugs and snails – delicacies in some parts of the world – may eat the rat droppings, including the lungworm larvae, and become infected.
Then the infected slugs can crawl into fruits, vegetables or salads and contaminate these foods.
And people may wind up eating the nightmarish parasite.
Or, people may gobble up a slug or snail, raw, on its own – typically on a dare.
At that point the parasite can infect a new, human host.
There, it attacks the spinal cord or gut.
Some people have no symptoms or symptoms that are barely detectable, while others may have vomiting, nausea or diarrhea and even temporary paralysis. In rare cases, infected people may develop dangerous brain swelling, or meningitis.
Infamously, Sam Ballard died last year after spending eight years paralyzed by the parasite, and falling into a coma.
The more recent victims were a little luckier.
One of the other two infected people confirmed that they ate a slug on a dare, according to the Department of Health press release, but didn’t go to the hospital. It’s unclear when or how it was confirmed that he or she had rat lungworm disease.
The third infected person fell ill in February and had to be hospitalized. Investigators’ best guess for how the visitor wound up infected was that they had picked up the parasite from eating ‘home made salads.’
With 10 cases in the span of a single year, Hawaiian officials are begging tourists to watch what they eat.
‘It’s important that we ensure our visitors know the precautions to take to prevent rat lungworm disease, which can have severe long-term effects,’ said Hawaii’s state health director, Bruce Anderson.
‘Getting information to visitors about the disease is just as critical as raising awareness amongst our residents.’