Rat Lungworm Prevention Meeting… The Video

BIVN has now posted a video from yesterdays meeting on the Rat Lungworm disease that recently got three puna residents sick and landed one in an Oahu hospital in a coma.

I also found this copy of a Hawaii Tribune Herald article that was republished on a web forum. (Dave Smith… was this authored by you?)

“Parmarion martensi, a brown slug that can reach about 2 inches in length, can be harmful because the mollusk is a known carrier of a disease-causing parasite, a nematode called angiostrongylus or rat lungworm, that can cause meningitis, pulmonary disease or gastrointestinal illness.

But who goes around eating slugs?

When they hatch, the slugs are very small and can cling to homegrown produce such as lettuce, said Rob Hollingsworth, an entomologist with the Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo.

If produce is not washed and inspected thoroughly, there is a chance slugs could go undetected.

The slug was known to be present on Oahu as early as 1996 but its presence was not confirmed on the Big Island until June 2004. Today, say health officials, it seems to be more prevalent on the Big Island.

There were some reports of residents accidentally ingesting slugs on home-grown lettuce and becoming ill, Hollingsworth said.

“The species, we think, is native to Southeast Asia,” Hollingsworth said. “It could have gotten here on imported plants or it could have come from Oahu. I don’t think there is a way to eradicate it at this point.”

There are other types of mollusks in Hawaii, such as the Cuban slug, that can carry the parasite, Hollingsworth said, but the new slug is considered a pest for several reasons, he said.

“This one seems to be adventurous. It climbs on houses and water tanks.” Hollingsworth said. It’s also been found in cat and dog food bowls.

In one instance, a man drained his entire water tank after finding slugs in his water supply.

“The biggest message out of this is you really need to wash your vegetables really well. Getting sick from this parasite is preventable. That really is the primary message,” said Sarah Park, deputy chief for the Disease Outbreak Control Division of the Department of Health.

Jacqueline Hahn, a naturopathic physician whose office is in downtown Hilo, said she has treated eight patients with the parasite over the past three years.

“It’s a parasite that doesn’t complete its life cycle in the human body,” she said. The body attacks the foreign parasite and damage is caused by the body’s own immune response system, she said.

Cortisone can be used to treat those suffering ill effects but there is no known cure, she said.

Hollingsworth said the severity of the symptoms depends on how many nematodes are ingested.

The eight cases had varied outcomes, Hahn said, adding the parasite can cause hives, high fever, extreme rashes, and pain in the skin, eyes, head or joints. She said patients suffered from neurological problems as well.

“The potential for permanent damage is great,” she said, adding the majority of cases seem to be from Puna. “It is definitely a growing problem.”

Hahn stressed the importance of aggressively washing produce, and seeking medical help if these symptoms occur. She said a blood test can determine if the parasite is present in the body.

It is unknown how long the symptoms from the parasite last, Hahn said.

“I’ve seen several patients three years later who are still in pain,” she said.”

2 Responses

  1. Thank you for posting about this. I live in Puna and we have noticed a bloom of slugs in the past few months.

  2. I believe that article was written in 2007 by someone hired at the Trib after I was fired illegally the year before. It appears to contain some material from three articles I wrote on the subject in early 2005. The most recent one I wrote, in July 2005, about a scientists’ survey of the slugs, is at:


    The earlier three were not carried by WHT and, since the Trib charges for access to its archives, are not readily available.

    Here’s some of the research that resulted from the survey:


    Back in early 2005, the CDC was investigating whether the nematode could be passed by slime trails or feces, such as on food or in water catchment. The prevailing thought at the time was that it was possible, but a 20-micron filter should be fine enough to stop the nematodes. I haven’t seen any updates on that aspect.

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