by Lisa A. Grimaldi | April 24, 2017
Following the confirmation of two more cases of rat lungworm in Hawaii, George D. Szigeti, left, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, has issued a statement to reassure Hawaii's tourism industry and visitors planning trips to the islands that the disease is "very rare and easily preventable."
Rat lungworm disease is caused by a parasite found in rodents, which can pass the parasite to snails, slugs and crabs; it affects the brain and spinal cord, can cause nausea, vomiting, severe pain and temporary paralysis. Symptoms can last a few weeks or months, but the parasites eventually die, according to the Hawaii Department of Health. The state has had 11 confirmed cases so far in 2017.
In his statement, Szigeti said, "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. It is important that people not overreact and gather reliable information before making any assumptions.
"On the recommendation of the Hawaii State Department of Health, residents and visitors of Hawaii can be assured there is nothing to fear about getting infected, as long as they use smart common sense when washing, preparing and storing food," Szigeti added. "The key facts that everyone needs to remember about rat lungworm disease is that it is very rare, it is very uncommon for people to get infected, and the disease is easily preventable by properly washing and storing all food, especially produce, before eating. To the visitors already in the Hawaiian Islands or planning a trip here in the coming months, there is no need to be overly concerned. Please patronize our restaurants and enjoy the delicious island cuisine and fresh produce that helps to make Hawaii such a beloved travel experience."
Szigeti continued, "I would strongly recommend anyone wanting trusted information about rat lungworm disease to visit the Department of Health website and learn the facts. 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, according to the Department of Health. Thus far in 2017, 11 people have been infected with the disease, nine residents and two visitors. While the cause of the two visitor cases is still being investigated, the Department of Health reports that the remaining nine cases could have been prevented with better hygiene and by properly washing, preparing and storing food. We hope knowing this information helps allay concerns about travel to the Hawaiian Islands, which continues to be the cleanest, healthiest, safest and most welcoming destination in the world."