Rat lungworm warnings broadcast statewide

The Maui News

The state Department of Health has launched a statewide broadcast media campaign to educate residents and visitors about rat lungworm disease, a potentially devastating illness that can have debilitating effects on an infected person’s brain and spinal cord.

Launched through a partnership with the Hawaii Association of Broadcasters, the campaign aims to increase awareness and prevention of the disease, the department said. Public education announcements are now running on 40 radio stations and seven television stations.

The campaign comes after a spike in cases statewide. On Maui, six cases were recorded from January to March. The island had previously gone a decade with only two recorded cases.

So far this year there have been 18 confirmed cases statewide, the department said. The most recent case was a Hawaii island resident who accidentally ingested an infected slug while drinking from a garden hose in November.

Earlier this year, the state Legislature appropriated $1 million to the department over the next two years to deliver enhanced response and outreach activities to control the spread of the disease. The broadcast campaign is part of that effort.

“The risk of rat lungworm disease is present on all islands, and there are basic steps we can take each day to reduce this risk and help prevent infection,” said Keith Kawaoka, deputy director of environmental health. “Knowledge is the best defense we can provide people with to collectively protect our communities from rat lungworm disease in Hawaii.”

Announcements also will run prior to movie showings this month and January at theaters on Maui, Oahu and Hawaii island. Shopping centers across the state also have posted announcements.

The department encourages residents to take the following precautions:

• Wash all produce thoroughly under clean and potable running water before eating, especially when eating raw fruits and vegetables.

• Cook food completely by boiling for 3 to 5 minutes or heating to 165 degrees for 15 seconds.

• Store food and drinks in sealed containers, especially when outdoors.

• Control and eliminate rats, slugs and snails around the home and garden.

• Inspect water catchment tanks regularly and always keep them covered.

• Watch children carefully while playing on the ground and keep them away from areas with slugs and snails.

• Do not drink from the garden watering hose since slugs and snails that may be inside could be dislodged and swallowed.

For more information about rat lungworm, visit health.hawaii.gov/docd/disease_listing/rat-lungworm-angiostrongyliasis/.