Hawaii health officials are warning residents and visitors to avoid slugs, snails and rats after the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that three travellers visiting the state were recently infected with rat lungworm disease. One visitor got the disease because the individual ate a slug.
The notice, issued last week, warns people to inspect produce and wash fruit and vegetables that could have small slugs or snails. These gastropods get the rat lungworm parasite (also known as an Angiostrongylus Infection) by eating rat faeces, and rats eat the infected slugs and snails, forming a continuous vile circle. Sometimes, humans get looped in by eating an uncooked snail.
Once the parasite has infected a host, it can move to the brain and cause a type of meningitis, and eventually lead to death. There is no treatment for rat lungworm disease, according to the CDC.
The recent Hawaii health department notice states that it does inform travellers visiting Hawaii about the disease through signage, but acknowledges it needs to do better. “We recognise that there is more work to be done in educating residents and visitors and making sure they know how to prevent the spread of this disease,” the notice reads.
Yes, clearly there is more work to be done, as one of the recent cases occurred because a traveller guzzled a damn slug. According to the state health warning, the individual “became infected by purposely eating a slug on a dare”.
That individual was infected with rat lungworm in December 2018, bringing the official count of Hawaii cases to 10 for that year. The state found 17 confirmed cases in 2017.
So far this year, there have been five confirmed cases in Hawaii. Prior to 2017, the state only had two documented cases in two decades.
In 2017, scientists also found traces of the parasite in Florida. Research shows the parasite may be spreading thanks to climate change, as subtropical gastropods are able to thrive in the US mainland.
If you’re visiting the US, be sure to be vigilant with your produce — and avoid eating raw slugs.