The Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) is urging residents and visitors to eat local and not forgo Hawaii’s local produce out of fear of rat lungworm infections.
The Department of Health advises there is nothing to fear about potential infection if people use smart common sense when washing, preparing and storing food.
“Some national media attention has been devoted recently to rat lungworm disease in Hawaii, raising concerns among visitors and groups planning trips to the Hawaiian Islands,” said George D. Szigeti, president and CEO of the HTA, in a written release. “It is important that people not overreact and gather reliable information before making any assumptions.”
Hawaii, which has 1.4 million residents and welcomed more than 8.9 million visitors in 2016, typically has between one to 11 cases of rat lungworm disease reported annually. So far in 2017, 11 people have been infected with the disease – nine residents and two visitors.
Rat lungworm disease, or Angiostrongyliasis, is an infection caused by a parasitic worm in rats, slugs and snails that is passed on to people under unusual circumstances. People get sick by eating raw or undercooked snails or slugs infected with the parasite, or from eating raw produce that harbors a small parasite-infected snail or slug, or part of either.
Most recover fully without treatment, but there is no medication or specific treatment for the disease. In the most severe cases, people can be afflicted with pain, neurological problems and disability.
“For visitors planning a trip to the Hawaiian Islands in the coming months, there is no need to be overly concerned,” said Szigeti. “Please patronize our restaurants and enjoy the flavorful island cuisine and fresh produce that helps make Hawaii such a beloved travel experience.”