3 Rat Lungworm Cases in Hawaii

(FORBES) – It’s not just a rat disease. It’s not just a worm disease. It’s rat lungworm disease, and according to the Hawaii Department of Health, this is the disease that three separate people got when they visited Hawaii island not too long ago.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) only recently confirmed that these were indeed rat lungworm disease cases. Such confirmation was necessary because, after all, it’s not every day that someone gets rat lungworm disease. It’s also not something to take lightly. You don’t typically use it as an excuse to call in sick, “oh, yes, couldn’t make it to work today because of a bout of rat lungworm disease,” or to back out of a date, “sorry, you are so great but it’s not you. It’s just my rat lungworm disease acting up.”

No, rat lungworm disease can only occur after you eat rat lungworm larvae, which fortunately doesn’t seem to be a common occurrence. Rat lungworm larvae is not something that you would ever want to deliberately eat. It is not like avocado toast. If someone asks you if you would like rat lungworm otherwise known as Angiostrongylus cantonensis with your toast, say no. The same goes for live snails or live slugs.

Here’s why. Snails, slugs, and, you guessed it, rats take turns hosting rat lungworms. A rat can acquire the larvae by eating a snail or slug infected with the larvae. The larvae then migrate to the rat’s lung (hence the name rat lungworm), where they can lay eggs, specifically in the arteries that supply the rat’s lungs with blood.

After the eggs hatch, the resulting larvae then migrate up through the rat’s lungs and airways up to the rat’s throat. The rat then essentially coughs up these larvae and swallows them. Let that image percolate in your head for a bit. The larvae subsequently travel through the rat’s gastrointestinal tract and exit the rat through the rat’s poop.

So, rat poop, there it is. Ready for snails or slugs to munch on or rub against, because that’s what snails and slugs do. The A. cantonensis larvae in the rat poop can enter the snail or slug either through their mouths or by penetrating their skin. After the larvae grow for a while in the snail or slug, a rat may then come along and see lunch. Thus, continues the circle of life for the rat lungworm.

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