WAILUKU, Hawaii — The Hawaii Department of Health has confirmed the state’s first case of rat lungworm disease this year was detected on Maui.

A resident tested positive for the infection after being hospitalized at Maui Memorial Medical Center. The source of the infection could not be determined, health officials said.

There were nine reported cases of rat lungworm contracted in Hawaii last year.

The disease caused by a parasitic roundworm can affect a victim’s brain and spinal cord and potentially cause long-term disability. The most common symptoms, which can vary widely, include severe headaches and neck stiffness.

Dr. Lorrin Pang, DOH’S chief health officer for Maui, searches for semi-slugs, in 2017. The department confirmed the state’s first rat lungworm case in 2020 on Maui. Tad Bartimus/Civil Beat

In Hawaii, most people become ill by accidentally ingesting a snail or slug infected with the parasite, experts said.

“In the midst of the COVID-19 situation, we need to also be mindful of other diseases such as rat lungworm,” said Lorrin Pang, Maui District health officer. “With many people starting their own home gardens for self-sustainability, we’d like to remind everyone to thoroughly inspect and rinse all fresh fruits and vegetables under clean, running water.”

Residents are encouraged to control snail, slug and rat populations around homes, gardens and farms and wear gloves when working outdoors, health officials said.

“We have been routinely monitoring slug populations in vegetable gardens at a sentinel site on Maui since the earlier part of this year. The counts have remained moderate to high and we are setting up a field intervention study to control the slug population,” Pang said.

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