Baby contracts rat lungworm disease

Big Island parents upset over child’s delayed diagnosis

HILO (AP) — An infant thought to have eaten a slug or snail is the latest victim of rat lungworm disease in the state.

Eleven-month-old Kanehekili “Kane” Tauanuu is the 17th person in Hawaii this year to contract the disease.

Rat lungworm can occur when rat droppings containing larvae are eaten by snails or slugs. When a human eats those snails or slugs, the parasites travel to the brain, causing neurological symptoms.

The child’s parents, Santini and Dylan Tauanuu, said that their son is “slowly getting better each day.”

He is expected to remain in the hospital until he relearns how to crawl.

His parents are frustrated at how long it took to get a diagnosis. They said they had to demand rat lungworm testing, which is a common complaint among patients eventually diagnosed.

“It took nine days, two ER visits, one Urgent Care visit and two pediatric visits before they finally took a blood sample at the ER in Hilo,” Santini Tauanuu said. “I was turned away multiple times and told he just had a cold and was given Motrin for his high fevers. I almost got turned away again but I demanded the hospital draw blood samples and do tests.”

Dr. Jon Martell, Hilo Medical Center medical director for Acute Care, said that he couldn’t speak about specific cases, but, he said, pediatric symptoms are “practically indistinguishable” from common childhood illness symptoms such as fever, chills, lethargy, nausea and vomiting.

“Requests for rat lungworm testing need to be evaluated by physicians on a case-by-case basis,” Martell said.

Santini Tauanuu wants other parents to pay attention to what happened to her family.

“If they would have just listened to me the first time when I initially took him to the ER (Sept. 8), he would have gotten help a lot sooner,” she said.

State officials set rat traps near the family’s home and discovered snails under a neighbor’s tarp during its investigation, she said.