UH Hilo researchers are working collaboratively with UH Mānoa and state agencies to fight rat lungworm disease.
As of late April 2017, the Hawaiʻi Department of Health had confirmed 13 cases of rat lungworm disease since the start of the year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the parasitic worm (Angiostrgonylus cantonensis) can invade the central nervous system and cause a rare form of meningitis.
The University of Hawaiʻi is addressing rat lungworm in diverse ways across the island state, including assessing its distribution statewide, determining which species of snails and slugs can carry it, doing experiments to determine the best ways to wash produce to keep it safe and undertaking extensive educational and outreach efforts.
“Rat lungworm is a horrible disease and we need to work collaboratively and collegially with all to do the best for the people of Hawaiʻi,” says UH President David Lassner.
Six UH faculty members serve on the Governor’s Task Force on Rat Lungworm Disease, established in 2016, and reflect a wide range of expertise.
- Robert Cowie, malacology, UH Mnoa Pacific Biosciences Research Center.
- William L. Gosnell, immunology, UH Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine.
- Susan Jarvi, pharmaceutical sciences, UH Hilo, Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy.
- Kenton Kramer, parasitology, UH Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine.
- Marian Melish, pediatrics, UH Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine.
- F. DeWolfe Miller, IV, epidemiology, UH Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine.
As the name implies, the rat lungworm is a parasite only of rats and a few other rodents. Infected rats pass the larvae of the parasite in their feces, which are then eaten by snails and slugs. Humans are accidental hosts who do not transmit infection to others, but can become infected by eating raw infected snails or slugs (or parts of them), which are often accidentally left on produce that has not been sufficiently washed.
“Prevention of rat lungworm disease is a statewide priority and the Department of Health is working with partners from federal, state and county agencies as we continue our investigation of reported cases,” says Department of Health Director Virginia Pressler. “The University of Hawaiʻi has been a valuable partner in our efforts to learn more about this rare and serious disease.”
UH Hilo contributions
- Rat Lungworm FAQ, The Jarvi laboratory, The Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy, UH Hilo
- Rat Lungworm web page (includes video of the parasitic worm), The Jarvi laboratory, The Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy, UH Hilo
- The Mystery of Rat Lungworm Disease (children’s activity book) (PDF), The Jarvi laboratory, The Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy, UH Hilo
- Study shows Puna has high exposure rates of rat lungworm disease: More than 90 percent of rat lungworm disease cases nationwide originate in East Hawai‘i Island (UH Hilo Stories, Oct. 11, 2016).
- UH Hilo graduate student to speak on safeguarding school gardens against Rat Lungworm Disease (UH Hilo Stories, April 27, 2016).
- Video: Interviews with Rat Lungworm Disease survivors, produced by researchers at UH Hilo (UH Hilo Stories, Aug. 10, 2015).
- UH Hilo researchers working on rat lungworm study (UH Hilo Stories, July 24, 2015).
- Susan Jarvi’s talk on collaborative efforts to advance research and education on rat lungworm disease (UH Hilo Stories, March 31, 2015).
In 2015, Prof. Jarvi was honored with the UH Hilo Award for Excellence in Scholarly/Creative Activities for her work on rat lungworm disease, including her basic and applied research as well as community advocacy and education. This award is presented annually to a member of the UH Hilo faculty for outstanding achievement in scholarly or creative endeavors. Jarvi’s award included recognition of her statewide work on rat lungworm research and education.
For more information about statewide resources on rat lungworm disease, see full story at UH System News.