California couple among Hawaii rat lungworm disease victims

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Radford recommends that residents use tongs or gloves to remove the snails or slugs and place them in a saltwater solution to kill them.

The rat lungworm grows inside the blood vessels of rats lungs but the larvae can be present in their droppings which are eaten by the snail and other animals through which they pass inside the human body.

The surprising uptick has health officials and residents alike anxious about the rise of the worm, which can invade the human brain.

Epidemiologist Sarah Park, of the Hawaii department of health, described the brain parasite infection as being "like having a slow-moving bullet go through your brain".

"It really does disrupt and destroy people's lives", said Lape.

While most of the people recover without a treatment, rare cases of the infection can result in serious neurological problems or even death. said the parasite caused a form of meningitis.

According to the CDC, people can get infected by eating raw or undercooked snails or slugs that are infected with this parasite, or by eating raw produce such as lettuce that contains a small snail or slug or part of one.

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Cases of rat lungworm infections have been documented in over 30 countries and health officials are anxious about its appearance in areas where previously the habitat was believed to be unsuitable.

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Hawaiian health officials said that there are six confirmed cases of rat lungworm disease. The condition is caused by Angiostrongylus cantonesis roundworm which infects rats. But in the past three months, six more cases have occurred in rapid succession.

An unusual number of rat lungworm cases on Maui in recent months has stirred public concern over the disease that causes a rare type of meningitis and miserable symptoms. In the decade before this period, the island had only seen two other cases.

Howe has said the medical community is not sufficiently aware of rat lungworm disease and doesn't know how to diagnose or treat it.

But, as The Atlantic noted, the rise of the rat lungworm has been a long time coming. This parasitic worm can be found in Southeast Asia and in the Pacific Islands.

"[Make] sure that the foods you eat are cooked properly, your vegetables are washed - that would help you prevent infection", said Walden. However, when consumed by humans, the parasite is not able to fully grow into adulthood and can cause many health issues before it eventually dies and is passed from the body. It can be picked up by creatures like slugs, snails, crabs and freshwater shrimp.