With summer vacation plans right around the corner, Hawaii is at the top of many family’s lists of getaways. However, travelers, beware of Angiostrongylus. Angio-strongy-lus-what? Angiostrongylus cantonensis is a parasitic worm of rats that causes Angiostrongliasis. In short, this parasitic worm is called a rat lungworm.
Rat lungworm disease is a disease affecting the central nervous system, or the brain and spinal cord. Your symptoms may range from mild to severe. Symptoms include: headaches, tingling or even pain to extremities, nausea, vomiting, fever, light sensitivity, and even temporary facial paralysis. You may also develop a form of meningitis called eosinophilic meningitis.
So how do we get this? It does not spread from person-to-person. Most people become infected by ingesting contaminated food or ingesting a snail or slug that has the parasite. Most known cases of rat lungworm disease are found in Asia, the Caribbean Islands, parts of Africa, and the Pacific Islands.
How can we avoid this parasite? It’s simple: DON’T eat raw snails, slugs, frogs or shrimp. Many victims of rat lungworm disease admit to ingesting snails or slugs on a dare. (If I could insert a puzzled emoji here, I would.) Furthermore, practice proper hygiene and wash all fruits and vegetables under clean, running water. Controlling rodent, snail and slug populations is also helpful. Do not let your children drink from the garden hose, as sometimes snails and slugs can be found in garden hoses. It is not known whether the slime left by infected snails and slugs can cause infection.
If you think that you may be exhibiting signs and symptoms of rat lungworm disease or believe you have been exposed to it, see your health care provider. Your provider will examine you and ask if you have had any recent travels or possible exposures. Blood tests may be ordered, however, there isn’t specifically an available blood test available. In Hawaii, a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test is sometimes performed to diagnose this. However, more than likely diagnosis will be based on the signs and symptoms, as well as, history provided by the patient.
If you are infected with the parasite, thankfully, the parasite dies over time without treatment. However, you are still susceptible to developing eosinophilic meningitis and symptoms can last for weeks and maybe months. Word of advice, prevention is best. So Bon Voyage and travel safe!