Rare Parasitic Worm Infection Causing Meningitis Raises Concern In Maui, Hawaii

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Apr 09, 2017 08:56 PM EDT

A severe case of Angiostrongylus cantonensis or rat lungworm infection can lead to death. (Photo : Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A rat lungworm or Angiostrongylus cantonensis is reportedly causing increased cases of infection in Maui, Hawaii. This kind of parasite can invade the brain of infected individuals.

According to Hawaii News Now, two people, who are Maui residents and two visitors to the island, were infected with Angiostrongylus cantonensis. There are four more cases that are under investigation, the local news outlet added. There were only two similar parasitic worm infections reported from the island within the last 10 years before these cases of 2017 occurred.

As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Angiostrongylus cantonensis can infect the brain causing meningitis. The parasitic worm infection manifests headaches, neck stiffness, nausea, and vomiting.

Angiostrongylus cantonensis can also cause uncommon sensations in patients’ arms and legs. A rare case can cause neurological problems or even death though the majority of infected people completely recover without any treatment, the CDC added.

“If you could imagine, it’s like having a slow-moving bullet go through your brain," Dr. Sarah Park, an epidemiologist at the Hawaii department of health, told the Associated Press. "There’s no rhyme or reason why it’s going to hang out in this part of the brain or that part of the brain," Dr. Park said.

Angiostrongylus cantonensis is initially found in rats, but larvae from the parasite can also contaminate snails and slugs. Therefore, people who eat affected raw or undercooked snails and slugs or its contaminated products can harbor the parasite and become infected.

At first, Angiostrongylus cantonensis is common only in Southeast Asia and tropical Pacific islands. However, its geographical distribution is extended to other places such as Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States among others.

There were more than 70 cases of Angiostrongylus cantonensis infection reported in Hawaii for the last decade. The most affected part is the Big Island as per Hawaii State Legislature.

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