Health scare of the week
Brain worms in Hawaii
Health officials in Hawaii have confirmed three new cases of rat lungworm—a rare and occasionally fatal disease spread by a parasite that burrows into brains. The three patients, who contracted the disease separately over the past several months, bring the state’s total number of cases in 2018 to 10, and the 2019 total to five. Seventeen people were infected in 2017—but only two during the previous decade. The parasite, Angiostrongylus cantonensis, starts its life cycle as a worm in rats’ lungs, reports CNN.com. Its larvae are found in rat feces, which are eaten by snails and slugs. When rats in turn eat these snails and slugs, the cycle starts again. Humans are typically infected when they accidentally eat an infected snail or slug—in an unwashed salad, for example. The tiny worms can get lost in human bodies and head for the brain, where they can cause serious issues with the central nervous system. Symptoms include headaches, neck stiffness, fever, and vomiting; a severe infection can be fatal. Hawaii’s Health Department advises people to wash fruit and vegetables—and to not eat slugs for a dare, as one recent patient did.