"Slow-moving bullet": New cases of brain-infecting parasite reported

People eating unhealthy and contaminated fruits and vegetables and also raw or undercooked snails can contract meningitis.

In the last two decades, there have only been two documented cases of rat lungworm infections in Hawaii.

"I$3 t's a worm infection introduced into North America through globalisation", virologist Peter Hotez from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston told Adrienne LaFrance at The Atlantic.

This disease is a parasitic nematode that infects rat's lungs, blood, and brains.

Due to the infection, rats defecate worm larvae which may be easily contracted by other animals or insects like slugs, snails, and freshwater shrimp. Humans might eat one of these infected hosts or they might eat produce that has had the worm transferred to it by a host. Simply killing or burying the slugs isn't sufficient to keep rats from eating them and perpetuating the life cycle.

"It's like having a slow-moving bullet go through your brain", state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park says, explaining the effects of rat lungworm disease.

When the angiostrongylus cantonensis parasite travels to the brain it can cause meningitis. Infections have since been reported in more than 30 countries, including the US, and while globalization has been pinned as a culprit, climate change has also been suggested as a reason for rat lungworm disease's increasing prevalence. Symptoms of such an infection include neck stiffness, headaches, nausea, or vomiting. The symptoms can sometimes "start more than six weeks after the worm was ingested".

The recent rat lungworm infection cases were reported by The Maui News and they discussed with residents the threat posed by this rare parasite. Scientists fear that this is just another effect of climate change.

"The brain parasite can be hard to diagnose because no blood test is available that will confirm an infection is present". So far there has been no treatment reported for the disease.

One would still have to wonder why A. cantonensis infections have become so common in Hawaii, and why a worm mainly found in the Pacific and Southeast Asia has also made an unexpected arrival in the continental United States.

Globalization and climate change appear to contribute in the spread of the parasite and the disease.

The sudden outbreak is now a cause of major concern to the health department. The six confirmed cases "involve four Maui residents and two individuals from Northern California who were visiting the Valley Isle". It is carried by rats and transmitted by snails and slugs. Numerous cases could have been prevented, by taking precautions like washing one's hands after handling creatures that might be infected, and by making sure produce is washed and creatures that might be infected are thoroughly cooked before they are eaten.

  • Lila Blake