Tourism chief reassures visitors after latest rat lungworm cases
After a recent increase in reported cases of rat lungworm disease, the Hawaii Tourism Authority is working to reassure current and potential visitors that the disease is rare and preventable.
There have been 11 confirmed cases of rat lungworm disease so far this year.
On Wednesday, two cases were confirmed on the Big Island, adding to three other local cases, four Maui resident cases and two Maui visitor cases.
“Some national media attention has been devoted recently to rat lungworm disease in Hawaii, raising concerns among visitors
and groups planning trips to the Hawaiian Islands,” said HTA President and CEO George Szigeti in a release. “It is important that people not overreact and gather reliable information before making any assumptions.”
Rat lungworm is a tropical disease caused by the nematode Angiostrongylus cantonensis.
People contract the disease, which is carried by snails and slugs, and hosted for a portion of its life cycle in rats, by eating unwashed produce or accidentally eating a snail.
Nationwide, Puna is considered the epicenter of rat lungworm disease. One of the disease’s main vectors, the semi-slug, has been on Hawaii Island since 2004.
On Wednesday, the state Department of Health issued a release noting the recent cases were concerning because they were easily preventable with “basic precautions such as storing food in covered containers and properly inspecting and washing food before eating.”
“On the recommendation of the state Department of Health, residents and visitors of Hawaii can be assured there is nothing to fear about getting infected as long as they use smart common sense when washing, preparing and storing food,” Szigeti said.