HEALTH WARNING: Rising numbers of BRAIN-BURROWING PARASITE cases leave experts baffled

Ellen Mills
April 13, 2017

Take note to peel off the leaves of lettuce or stems off broccoli to ensure snails or slugs are not hiding.

Next thing you know, your brain is being invaded and it doesn't sound good at all.

The couple said they're not sure how they contracted the parasite, which is often carried by rats and transmitted by snails and slugs. The first human case of the disease was reported in Taiwan in 1944, but in recent decades it has spread not only to Hawaii, but to the southeastern United States as well.

Travelers who visit Hawaii love the beaches and numerous tourist attractions, but consumers would do well to be mindful of what they eat and which areas they visit. Janice Okubo, a spokeswoman for the Hawaii Department of Health, told CNN the state typically receives reports of one to nine cases total of rat lungworm disease each year.

However, the CDC says that "Diagnosing A. cantonensis infections can be hard, in part because there are no readily available blood tests".

"They're just reporting numbers being discharged from hospitals, so they're missing all the other cases where people might go into a clinic and not a hospital", said Susan Jarvi, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Experts also recommend covering any catchment tanks to prevent snails and slugs from getting into them. Of the 10 or so cases that are reported each year in Hawaii, almost all are restricted to the Big Island.

Rat lungworm disease affects the brain and the spinal cord. There is no specific treatment for the infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Once people catch the infection they can even develop meningitis. It shocked Lape and Manilla, who considered themselves "pretty healthy individuals" who'd never gotten any sickness as bad as rat lungworm.

Unfortunately, in some cases, the rat lungworm disease parasite manages to sneak inside the patient's brain, tamper with the nervous system, and cause a condition known as parasitic meningitis. The worm has been found in Louisiana, Hawaii and the Caribbean, but lives primarily in the Pacific Basin and Southeast Asia, according to the CDC. However, when consumed by humans, the parasite is not able to fully grow into adulthood and can cause many health issues before it eventually dies and is passed from the body. Authorities advise locals and tourists alike to wash the vegetables and fruits properly and avoid uncooked meat of animals.

The rise in cases of the brain parasite, angiostrongylus cantonensis, is being blamed on globalization, climate change, touching infected creatures like snails and slugs bare handed, and on eating raw or undercooked freshwater shrimp, snails, or slugs that are infected with the potentially deadly nematode.

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