Rat lungworm disease confirmed in visitor to West Hawaii

KAILUA-KONA — The Hawaii Department of Health on Wednesday said it has been notified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about a lab-confirmed case of rat lungworm disease in a visitor to West Hawaii.

The confirmation marked the year’s sixth case of rat lungworm disease — three in residents and three in visitors — all of which were believed to be contracted on this island.

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According to the department, the visitor is an adult resident of the mainland who was traveling in West Hawaii when they became infected with the parasite that causes the disease. The department did not indicate where specifically in the region the person was traveling.

The person reportedly became ill in early February and was hospitalized on the mainland for a short time with symptoms.

While the investigation into the illness wasn’t able to determine the precise source of infection, the person reported having eaten fresh fruit and not washing it all prior to consumption.

“Washing fresh fruits and vegetables carefully no matter where they come from is an important step to preventing rat lungworm disease,” said state epidemiologist Sarah Park in a press release. “Thoroughly inspecting and rinsing produce under clean, running water is the most effective way to remove pests and other contaminants.”

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In addition to washing all fruits and vegetables under clear, running water (with special attention for leafy greens), the department also advises inspecting, washing and storing produce in sealed containers regardless of where it came from.

DOH also recommends controlling snail, slug and rat populations around homes, gardens and farms and clearing away debris where they could live.

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