Hawaii Warns Tourists Of Parasitic Worm That Can Burrow Into Human Brains
If you have plans to go to Hawaii this summer, take note! The state’s health department has recently released warnings about a parasitic worm capable of infecting humans and affecting the brain and spinal cord. While you might be determined to prevent anything from ruining your island vacation, this squirmy bugger just might!
What’s Happening with the Parasitic Worm in Hawaii?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been three brand new cases of United States mainland adults infected with this brain worm while visiting Hawaii Island. These three cases were completely unrelated, become infected at different times, and all lived in different places. They bring the state’s case total to 5 infections in 2019 and 10 infections in 2018. These numbers don’t represent the 17 confirmed cases that occurred back in the year 2017 or the two recorded cases in the previous decade. According to officials, this new eruption in parasitic worm infections is due to a boom in the population of semi-slugs, a carrier of the worm.
What Is Hawaii’s Parasitic Worm?
Disgust is any reasonable person’s reaction to hearing about any kind of parasitic worm! But it might be worth your while to learn a bit about them. In all of the Hawaii cases, the particular parasite was the rat lungworm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis). As their name suggests, this nasty creature usually makes its home inside the lungs of rats. Females lay eggs there and then young worms abandon their nest soon in order to discover their own home.
Nature takes its somewhat revolting course when the larvae get coughed up the rat’s airway, then swallowed and passed through their digestive system. Snails, slugs, and other feces-eating bugs soon become intermediate hosts until new rodents eat these infested mollusks. Prepubescent parasites make their temporary home in the rat’s brain until they’re mature enough to resettle and reproduce in the lungs.
According to the State of Hawaii Department of Health, “You can get angiostrongyliasis by eating food contaminated by the larval stage of A. cantonensis worms. In Hawaii, these larval worms can be found in raw or undercooked snails or slugs. Sometimes people can become infected by eating raw produce that contains a small infected snail or slug, or part of one.”
How to Prevent a Rat Lungworm Infection
Diagnosing a rat lungworm infection is difficult. Some cases are entirely symptomless and blood tests don’t identify the parasite. Typically patients infected with the worm are left to manage their own symptoms while they wait for the worm to die on its own. This usually happens before the worm is able to infest a human’s lungs.
If you plan to visit Hawaii any time soon, carefully inspect and thoroughly wash all produce purchased in store. Once you purchase it, keep your produce properly sealed in airtight containers. Avoid eating snails or slugs in Hawaii. Wash any food item that might have come into contact with snails or slugs, such as salad fixings that snails or slugs might have used as grazing foods.
It’s important to be careful with what you eat anytime you travel. Be sure you wash all fruits and vegetables, only eat meat that’s fully cooked, and do not drink the tap water. If you’re going to Hawaii this summer, just be extra careful with fruits and vegetables. Rat lungworm isn’t something to scoff at!
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