UH Hilo on the front line in the battle against rat lungworm disease

UH Hilo researchers are working collaboratively with UH Mānoa and state agencies to fight rat lungworm disease.

Jarvi Lab team of nine including Prof. Sue Jarvi standing at front center.
UH Hilo Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences Sue Jarvi (center) and her lab team. Prof. Jarvi is UH Hilo’s expert on rat lungworm disease. Courtesy photo UH Hilo College of Pharmancy.

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.

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.

A chart showing the life cycle of rat lungworm parasite.

“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

Cover of childrens book, two kids eating produce with parasite lurking close by.
The Mystery of Rat Lungworm Disease is an activity book designed by UH Hilo researchers to help local elementary-age children learn what to look for in their gardens and vegetables.


  • 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



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.

Learn more about Prof. Jarvi’s research.


For more information about statewide resources on rat lungworm disease, see full story at UH System News.