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The Journal Gazette

Friday, April 21, 2017 1:00 am

Hawaiians are seeing rise in painful rat lungworm illness

Washington Post

The clinical description of the symptoms of rat lungworm illness – “severe headaches, nausea, vomiting, neck stiffness, seizures, and neurologic abnormalities” – lets this particular affliction off the hook.

To really fathom its hideousness, you have to listen to the words of someone suffering through it. Tricia Mynar has been describing her experience on TV in Hawaii to raise awareness. It's like the pain of childbirth “every day,” the mother of three said.

“That was like eating ice cream compared to this,” she told KHON TV. “It was like someone stuck an ice pick in my collarbone, in my chest and in the back of my neck. The majority is in your head and the pain is just excruciating.”

When she first contracted it, “it was like people pushing needles “in my back, pushing forward from my shoulder blades all the way to my lungs” and out “the front of my chest,” she told Maui News Now.

“I couldn't sleep. I had to stand at my kitchen counter and put my hands on the counter to hold my body up. I literally slept two nights standing. I couldn't have any type of wind touch my skin because my nerves were hypersensitive.”

And the headaches: Worse, she said, than the “worst migraine you could feel.”

“I would never want anyone to experience this.”

Fortunately, relatively few people do. But the incidence of angiostrongyliasis, nicknamed “rat lungworm” illness because of its origins (it comes from a parasite in the lungs of rats via rat feces to snails and slugs and then through contaminated food or drink to humans) is on the rise in Hawaii.

The Hawaii State Department of Health confirmed two new cases Wednesday, bringing the total of confirmed cases to 11 this year in the state. Four related cases are considered “highly probable based on clinical indications,” the department said.

That's already more than the average of nine for an entire year in the state, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

The latest group to become infected with the parasite, according to the Department of Health, picked it up at a home in Keaau on the Big Island a few weeks after drinking homemade kava, made from Piper methysticum, a plant native to the western Pacific islands.

They had left the kava out in uncovered buckets after preparing the drink at home, according to the health department. It was then poured into a large bowl, and “after consuming most of the contents, the individuals noticed a slug at the bottom of the bowl.” An investigation by the health department “determined the source of the infections was likely the homemade kava tainted by slugs.”