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Ask the Mayor: Do Rats Carry Rat Lungworm Disease?

Posted April 9, 2017, 02:09 PM HST Updated April 12, 2017, 10:03 AM HST
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Rat Lungworm can be caught from not properly washing produce. Photo Courtesy Maui Invasive Species Committee

Mayor Alan Arakawa answers some of the questions submitted to his staff.

Submit your own questions about County of Maui programs, services, operations or policies to Mayor Alan Arakawa at AskTheMayor@mauicounty.gov, 270-7855 or mail them to 200 S. High St., 9th Floor, Wailuku, HI 96793.

Questions submitted will be considered for inclusion in the “Ask the Mayor” column.

Mayor Alan Arakawa answers some of the questions submitted to his office staff. Submit your own questions about County of Maui programs, services, operations or policies to Mayor Alan Arakawa via email: AskTheMayor@mauicounty.gov, phone: 270-7855 or mail: 200 S. High Street, 9th Floor, Wailuku, Hawaii 96793. Questions submitted will be considered for inclusion in the “Ask the Mayor” column.

Dear Mayor Arakawa,

Q: The reports about Rat Lungworm Disease are very scary because the parasite-based disease can cause permanent damage. Since there are a lot of rats near where I live, I wanted to know—is it possible to contract the disease through contact with rat feces?

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A: Thank you for asking this question, as we all need to stay informed about this very serious disease.

From what scientists currently know, humans do not get sick from contact with rats or their feces; instead, they can contract the disease from the third larval stage of the parasite when it is present in the bodies of slugs, snails, frogs, freshwater prawns and land crabs that are eaten raw or under-cooked.

People can become infected accidentally by eating raw produce that contains a small snail or slug or part of one, so wash, cook or freeze produce and foods carefully.

Rat Lungworm, or angiostrongyliasis, can affect the brain and spinal cord with symptoms ranging from very mild or none at all, to life-altering pain, skin tingling and sensitivity, severe headache, sensitivity to light, hallucinations, nausea and vomiting and other debilitating symptoms.

For more information, including food, garden and home safety tips, visit www.mauiready.org/ratlungworm.

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