State Taking Measures in Fight Against Rat Lungworm

Dec 26, 2017

Aerial shot of Hilo.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Rat lungworm disease can be devastating. The overwhelming majority of cases have been on Hawai'i Island. State legislators on that island have made several requests to fund ongoing research and outreach efforts at the UH Hilo College of Pharmacy and Hilo Medical Center. In the last legislative session, funds WERE allocated—but not to institutions on the Big Island. HPR contributing reporter Sherry Bracken follows the money.

Over the past decade, the State Department of Health has confirmed 78 cases of rat lungworm disease in Hawai‘i. Nearly 80 percent of them have been on the Big Island.

The disease, also called Angiostrongyliasis, causes severe pain, brain swelling, and often, ongoing neurological problems. 

It is spread by ingesting slugs or snails, which get it from infected rats.   

Keith Kawaoka, Deputy Director of the Department of Health, talked about plans for the funding. 

“The 2017 legislature authorized the department 1 million dollars spread over two years, both control and prevention. The first year, about $300,000 is being directed towards public outreach, communication, education, and another $200,000 is being directed toward epidemiological as well as vector control.

We’re developing a feasibility pilot survey. The rats would be identified in a certain geographic area, the rats will be collected, they will be sent to Centers for Disease Control for analysis and identification. On the snails and slugs, it’s similar, collect snails and slugs in the same areas, and identify if there are existence of the angiostrongylitis disease.”  

UH Hilo research has already shown that 94% of rats in East Hawai'i are infected. A month ago, Kawaoka said they plan to collect rats and slugs on O’ahu, even though since 2007 there have been only two cases on O’ahu and more than 60 on the Big Island. 

But last week, a State Department of Health spokeswoman said they are going back to the drawing board, as they realize any study must include other counties.

Big Island legislators had requested funding be directed to existing research and outreach via UH Hilo College of Pharmacy and Hilo Medical Center. But Kawaoka said Department of Health has no plans to fund those ongoing efforts.

The State has created a rat lungworm taskforce on O’ahu.  Tomorrow, Sherry will take a closer look at what the group is doing—and what its members have to say about the work.