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    Rat Lungworm: Brain-Damaging Parasite Terrorizes Hawaii Locals, Vacationers

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    You read that right: six cases of infection with the brain-damaging parasite, with what has to be the most horrible name ever, have been registered in Hawaii, and state authorities are sounding the alarm.

    The known cases have been registered on the Hawaiian island of Maui. The parasite, which normally lives in the lungs of rats after the rodents eat infected slugs and snails, enters the human body through traces of rat feces on poorly washed food, health experts explain.

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

    The worm can live in the human body for months, growing to lengths of up to an inch. It can cause a rare form of meningitis, which comes along with serious headaches, tingling or painful feelings in the skin or extremities, low-grade fever, and nausea and vomiting, according to the Health Department's Disease Investigation Branch. Damage to the brain is likely to be permanent, but it is rarely fatal, doctors explain.

    There is no known treatment for the parasite, they say.

    Hawaii Department of Health Spokeswoman Janice Okubo said that confirmed cases involve four Maui residents and two visitors to the island. According to a report by The Maui News, the visitors are a man and a woman from Northern California.

    This frame grab from video provided By Yomyat Kzefeh Hawen Fi Dimashq (Diary of a Mortar Shell in Damascus), a Damascus-based media outlet that is consistent with independent AP reporting, shows Syrian residents filling up buckets and gallons of spring water from a pipe on the side of the road, in Damascus, Syria
    © AP Photo / Yomyat Kzefeh Hawen Fi Dimashq (Diary of a Mortar Shell in Damascus
    Okubo added that the parasite has been found in slugs and snails on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii islands. Potentially, she said, the Maui cases originated in multiple areas of the island as well as areas on the Big Island of Hawaii, she said.

    Experts note that the parasite can survive even if infected slugs are killed or burnt, as rats eat the remains regardless.

    On Thursday night, state Department of Health and the Maui Invasive Species Committee held a community meeting at Hana to address concerns over the recent outbreak in East Maui. Experts are trying to determine the best way to deal with the infection. Until then, the best advice doctors give is to take the time to wash all vegetables thoroughly.

    "I hope people really understand it's in their hands to prevent infection by properly washing all of the produce… regardless where they buy it from," says Hana Heath Executive Director Cheryl Vasconcellos.

    Hawaii parents are also advised to educate children not to play with slugs, as contact with them might spread the disease.

     

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