Health officials have reported a rare parasitic infection called “rat lungworm” that is caused by the worm Angiostrongylus cantonensis. This parasite has the capacity to infect rats’ lungs, their blood and brains as well as the human brain. The larvae of infected rat can be picked up by snails, lizard, slug. Hence, citizens of Maui are asked to stay away from these animals. In some cases, the infection may be symptomless but for others, the worm can cause severe inflammation, pain, nausea, fever and in some cases tremors which can put the patient in a coma or even cause death. This lungworm is very difficult to diagnose and till now there is no treatment found.
Initially, there were only 2 cases observed but till now Hawaii has experienced more than 70 cases of rat lungworm among its residents. The main cause of this infection is due to human contact with invasive semi-slug that is a good traveler of worm and is commonly found in some regions of the Big Island. This parasite can reside in the human body for several months and can completely damage brain tissue and membrane. Experts say that climate change and increased global travel are the main reasons behind parasite spreading to new places and causing infection.
The first infected human was found in Taiwan in 1944. Various countries like Southeast Asia and Western Pacific Islands, Australia experienced this rat lungworm infection. Slowly this infection started spreading in countries like California, Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida etc. In Hawaii, this infection stayed for long period of time. In 2016, more than 30 countries showed the cases of this spreading infection. Maui Invasive Species Committee Manager Adam Radford said, “This infection is not going to go away. The only thing we can do is to educate people through social media.” Scientists have warned that change in climate is also responsible for spreading other deadly infections like Zika virus.