According to health officials, after eating a slug on a dare, an American tourist has been infected with rat lungworm in Hawaii. The person was among the three people who have been diagnosed with the infection.
The Hawaii Department of Health said that the three cases are quarantined and have occurred months apart. And all three were the American tourists.
Rat lungworm is caused by a parasitic roundworm that infects a rat’s lungs, which then finds its way into slugs that are eaten by rats and rodents, completing the cycle.
Humans are infected through translucent baby slugs that can have thousands of worms, hiding on unwashed produce.
The health officials said that one person was infected with rat lungworm in December after “purposely eating a slug on a dare.” And the others are believed to have caught the infection through eating unwashed vegetables and salads.
The case diagnosed in December has brought the annual total of rat lungworm infections in Hawaii to 10 for 2018.
According to the CDC, rat lungworm symptoms may include severe headaches or neck stiffness. In rare or severe cases, it can result in neurological problems, severe pain, or even long-term disability.
The CDC said, “People present with symptoms of bacterial meningitis, such as nausea, vomiting, neck stiffness, and headaches that are often global and severe. Additionally, abnormal sensations of the arms and legs can occur.”
The agency explained that most infections resolve without treatment because the worm does not survive long enough in the human body. However, in serious cases, it may lead to neurological dysfunction or even death.
The Hawaii Department of Health recommends the following steps to prevent the infection:
- Wash all fruits and vegetables under clean, running water to remove any tiny slugs or snails. Pay close attention to leafy greens.
- Control snail, slug, and rat populations around homes, gardens, and farms by clearing debris where they might live, and using traps and baits.
- Always wear gloves for safety when working outdoors.
- Inspect, wash, and store produce in sealed containers, regardless of whether it came from a local retailer, farmer’s market, or backyard garden.
In Australia, an aspiring 19-year-old athlete Sam Ballard died in November 2018 after he was infected by rat lungworm that he picked up from eating a slug on dare some eight years ago. He had several attacks of seizures and became quadriplegic, and then eventually died.