rat lungworm disease

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Ben Manilla and Eliza Lape

Ben Manilla and Eliza Lape

Ben Manilla, 64, and his new wife Eliza Lape, 57, believe they contracted the disease during their two-week honeymoon on the Hana area of Maui. The two newlyweds from California are among the latest victims of the rat lungworm disease that is affecting Hawaii and has now migrated to the mainland.

Lape said she started experiencing symptoms after the couple returned home to San Francisco.

"My symptoms started growing to feeling like somebody was taking a hot knife and just stabbing me in different parts of my body." Lape said.

Manilla's symptoms began shortly thereafter. Manilla spent a month in ICU and is still in the hospital undergoing intensive rehabilitation.

"I've already had several operations, two pneumonias, a blood clot and kidney complications." he said.

The Hawaii Department of Health had confirmed six cases of rat lungworm disease tied to Maui in the same year. There were three other cases on the Big Island and DOH officials are investigating four other possible cases.

The numbers are based on information gathered from emergency rooms and other hospital visit and experts fear that the problem may be underreported.

"They were just reporting the numbers being discharged from hospitals, so they missed all the other cases where people might go into a clinic instead of a hospital," said Susan Jarvi, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Hawaii at Hilo who is the most signifigant researcher of the disease.

Both Lape and Manilla said they would have stayed away from the area if they had been better informed by Hawaiian officials.

"Had we known we were walking into this kind of environment, we would have had a completely different attitude," Lape said. "It really does disrupt and destroy people's lives."

Lape and Manilla's elopement to Maui was almost perfect with a sunset wedding, a moonlit dinner at Hana Ranch - a honeymoon full of hiking, surfing and sunbathing.

"It was a perfect two weeks," Lape said. "What we came home with was not perfect."

Lape and Manilla live in the San Francisco Bay Area and came to Maui in January. They'd visited Molokai around the same time last year and said they had a wonderful time being in old Hawaii.

"We were looking for a place off the beaten track," Manilla said. "We found a place in Hana a couple miles out of town and decided to set up a house exchange."

Before the couple returned to California, Lape started to get strange symptoms like terrible headaches, sharp pains "that felt like somebody took a hot knife and stabbed me," tingling sensations and "a feeling of wanting to crawl out of my body."

Back home in California, Manilla also developed the sensation of wanting "to jump out of my body." He had incredible pain in his shoulders and lost his fine motor skills, unable to write or hold a fork or cup. A lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, Manilla tried to write something on the board one day and found he couldn't hold the marker.

An infectious disease expert at the University of California at San Francisco diagnosed the couple's condition. He sent blood tests to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which confirmed rat lungworm. It shocked Lape and Manilla, who considered themselves "pretty healthy individuals who'd never gotten any sickness as terrible as rat lungworm."

Neither knew exactly how they got it. In talks with the state Department of Health, they retraced everywhere they had gone and everything they had eaten.

"We were eating food from the garden, we were eating food from food stands, people were bringing us fruit and vegetables," Lape said. "We had no idea, frankly, where we picked it up."

Manilla was an audio producer for 25 years, but after he came down with Rat Lungworm disease he says he "just walked away from everything."

"I haven't responded to any emails," he said. "A lot of people don't know what's happened to me. I just kind of vanished - I just need to take care of myself and get better before I start getting back into the work mode."

His wife Eliza has improved and returned to her job as a communications consultant. However, she doesn't have the stamina she used to have and is "still feeling weird things in my body occasionally."

She highly recommends carefully storing, inspecting and washing produce; watching children outdoors to make sure they don't put a snail or slug in their mouths or even touch them; and controlling slug, snail and rat populations around homes and gardens.

The Hawaiian Department of Health also recommends that people wear gloves and wash their hands if handling snails or slugs. It also cautions against eating raw or undercooked snails or slugs, frogs or shrimp and prawns. When preparing food, suspect snails, prawns, fish and crabs should be boiled for at least 3 to 5 minutes, or frozen at 5 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 24 hours, which kills the larval stage of the worm.

Also anyone with water catchment tanks should also take measures to keep slugs and snails out and filter water appropriately.

"It turned our lives upside down and inside out," Lape said. "We literally both walked away from flourishing careers and are just now starting to think of putting our lives back together again."

This information is not meant to be used for self-diagnosis or as a substitute for consultation with a health care provider. If you have any questions about the parasites described above or think that you may have a parasitic infection, consult a health care provider.

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