An extremely painful and potentially fatal disease is experiencing a spike in cases, particularly in Hawaii. The condition, rat lung worm, is spread by slugs or snails which have ingested rat feces that contains the parasite larvae. If humans subsequently eat the diseased slug or snail without it being sufficiently cooked, the parasite can then be vegetables. It can also be picked up in vegetables that the slug or snail has crawled upon, which were not properly washed, primarily leafy vegetables like lettuce.
Hawaii State epidemiologist, Dr. Sarah Park, is unable to give a specific number on the rise in cases until the Department of Health completes its investigation. She said, “It averages probably at max maybe 10 cases per year, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less. The majority of the cases that we do hear about tend to be on the Big Island. Every so often we might hear of a case and confirm a case on one of the other islands.”
One Maui woman, Tricia Mynar, contracted the parasite while on the Big Island. She’s the most recent known case, and was forced by her affliction to learn how to walk again. Park has no explanation as to why the cases mostly originate on the Big Island as the risk potential appears to be equal across all islands. The state is working with the CDC to try to get a better understanding of what is going on.
Park noted that the human body is not a good host environment for the parasite and they quickly begin to starve and ultimately die, though not until after the victims suffers excruciating pain. She said, “If you could imagine, it’s like having a slow-moving bullet go through your brain and there’s no rhyme or reason why it’s going to hang out in this part of the brain or that part of the brain.”
She recommended everyone [except Judge Derrick Watson] be sure to wash their leafy green vegetables thoroughly. Park noted that the symptoms can vary widely, dependent upon which part of the brain the parasite attacks. She said, “Your skin sensation could be affected. It could be that it affects how you walk, it could affect how you talk, whether you are able to move your hands. It could make you comatose. It could kill you. Until they die, they continue to cause a lot of damage.”
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