“When I talk about rat lungworm, I immediately get people’s attention,” said Jon Martell, a Hilo physician and one of the speakers at a recent community symposium on the subject.
“It touches on their fundamental fears and ‘ick’ factors,” he continued. “It’s got rats, worms, snails, and slugs -- really repulsive things. People aren’t supposed to be in the picture.”
Yet they are, and in growing numbers. The result is an increase in the incidence of rat lungworm disease – a.k.a. angiostrongyliasis – in Hawai`i, especially on the Big Island. Not only are reports of the disease rising, but the severity of the cases seems to be growing as well. And the changes may be linked to the introduction of the Asian semi-slug to the Big Island in 2004.
The Big Island’s experience with the disease may be just a taste of things to come. According to Robert Cowie, a snail expert at the University of Hawai`i, “with the increasing spread of invasive alien species, including rats, and slugs and snails, to all parts of the world, and with global warming increasing the potential latitudinal range of the parasite, it is seen as an important emerging infectious disease.”
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environment hawaii rat lungworm angiostrongyliasis asian semi slug robert cowie jon martell robert hollingsworth marlena dixon kay howe graham mccumber silka strauch cuban slug ann kobsa