First Case of Rat Lungworm Disease on Oahu in 7 Years Confirmed by Hawaii DOH

The Hawaii Department of Health has confirmed the first case of rat lungworm disease on Oahu for the year, bringing the statewide total to 16 cases, thus far.

Hawaii is making headlines again, as the Hawaii Department of Health confirmed the first case of rat lungworm disease on Oahu in 2017. The disease is caused by a rare roundworm parasite called Angiostrongylus cantonensis known to affect the brain and spinal cord. This is the first case of rat lungworm disease that Oahu has seen in 7 years.

The infected Oahu resident first started experiencing symptoms associated with the disease back in July 2017. Since then, Hawaii DOH staff from the Vector Control Program and Disease Investigation Branch began “onsite property assessments” in East Oahu, according to the official press release. For these assessments, the staff surveyed for any snail, slug, or rat activity; however, they did not find any evidence in the area. The investigation is ongoing as health officials search for the source of infection of the Oahu resident.

Although this is the first case of the year for Oahu, rat lungworm disease is not new to the state of Hawaii. In fact, the disease has been endemic on the islands for at least 50 years, Heather Stockdale Walden, PhD, assistant professor in the department of infectious diseases and pathology at the University of Florida, said in past coverage of the disease in Hawaii.

In April 2017, the Hawaii DOH saw several cases of the disease, particularly on the island of Maui. With this new case on Oahu, the total number of confirmed cases has reached 16 for this year; the highest number of reported cases for Hawaii in the last decade.

To address the growing issue, Governor David Y. Ige partnered up with the Hawaii DOH and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture to ramp up prevention efforts in the state.

“We are bringing together local experts from relevant fields to increase public awareness, improve our response activities, and explore ways to control and treat the disease,” Gov. Ige commented in a recent press release. “They will work together with the Joint Task Force we established last year to step up prevention efforts beyond Hawaii island, where the first cases were reported.”

Created in May 2016, the Joint Task Force against the disease is set to reconvene this month. Through this task force, experts from all different communities, ranging from medical to scientific to public health, will work together to come up with effective guidelines for physicians, food establishments, schools, and farms, “on best practices to prevent, control, and treat rat lungworm disease.”

In addition to the task force, the 2017 Hawaii State Legislature “appropriated $1 million ($500,000 over 2 years) to the DOH” to put towards increased education on the disease, as well as prevention and control efforts.

Furthermore, the Hawaii DOH is set to partner with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct a targeted study involving rats, slugs, and snails, in order to assess common disease routes and “provide data on disease risks from these vectors.” The officials hope to use these findings to inform the development of stronger preventive strategies.

To help residents understand the disease and learn how to engage in stronger food safety practices in order to better prevent infection, the Hawaii DOH release a PSA. In addition, the Hawaii DOH will be hosting a free webinar on “Management Strategies for Rats, Snails, and Slugs,” on August 25, 2017, featuring Dave Moore, Neudorff North America, and Christopher Jacobsen, Hawaii DOH entomologist.

To keep up-to-date on the latest news regarding the rat lungworm disease outbreak in Hawaii, visit our Contagion ® Outbreak Monitor.

Feature Picture: Juvenile Pamarion martensi on a nickel. Feature Picture Source: Hawaii Department of Health.