Parents: Take Action to Prevent Rat Lungworm Disease

Going on scavenger hunts in the backyard or spending the day at the park are favorite past times for many Hawaii families. As parents and caregivers, we know how important it is to keep a careful eye on our keiki as they’re playing on the ground, especially since you never know what might find a way into their mouths.

This is crucial, especially with the rainy season in full swing. A Hawaii Island infant was recently diagnosed with rat lungworm disease in late 2017, after accidentally consuming a slug or snail.

Caused by a parasitic roundworm, rat lungworm disease can have debilitating effects on the brain and spinal cord. It’s spread when infected rodents pass larvae of the roundworm in their feces, which are then eaten by snails and slugs.

The Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) reminds parents and caregivers to closely supervise children, ensuring they don’t pick up and put slugs, snails or other objects from the ground into their mouths. When eating and drinking outdoors, keep all food and beverage containers covered to keep pests from crawling in.

“Children explore their world by putting objects into their mouths—it’s a natural stage of development,” said Health Director Dr. Virginia Pressler. “We have to watch what children might be playing with, and help them wash their hands using soap and clean water after playing, whether indoors or outdoors.”

People often become infected by accidentally consuming snails or slugs sometimes hidden on unwashed produce. The disease cannot be spread from person-to-person.

Eliminating slugs, snails and rats in gardens and around properties can help reduce the risk for infection. Other safety tips include:

Carefully wash all produce under clean, running water, especially leafy greens.
Cook food thoroughly (boil 3-5 minutes or heat to 165° F for 15 seconds).
Cover water catchment tanks and inspect them regularly.
Don’t drink from the garden hose.

Symptoms include severe headache, neck stiffness, fever, and tingling or painful skin. Children may have behavioral changes such as unusually bad temper, mood changes, or extreme tiredness. Seek immediate medical attention for such symptoms.

More information available at https://health.hawaii.gov.