rat lungworm disease

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About Dr. Susan Jarvi

Dr. Susan Jarvi

Dr. Susan Jarvi

Dr. Susan Jarvi is a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. She researches host-parasite and parasite-parasite interactions and influences on transmission and virulence of infectious disease.

Dr. Jarvi has been conducting research to gain a better understanding of host-parasite interactions using the avian malaria-Hawaiian honeycreeper model, and the Angiostrongylus cantonensis– rodent model.

They are conducting multiple studies to help reduce the risk of humans becoming infected with the rat lungworm parasite including, a vaccine trial, development of molecular-based and antibody-based diagnostics, estimating human exposure, and finding ways to reduce parasite transmission.

Jarvi's lab, located at the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy at UH Hilo, currently has two main areas of investigation: avian pathogens and rat lungworm disease.

The research team also is interested in continued development of molecular-based methods for the detection and evaluation of pathogen diversity, and development and implementation of vaccines.

Another focus of Jarvi's lab is rat lungworm disease (RLWD) caused by the parasite Angistrongylus cantonensis. "Hawai‘i, specifically the Puna district on the Island of Hawai‘i, is the epicenter for Rat Lungworm Disease in the U.S.," says Jarvi.

Jarvi and her team have completed two trials in local rats with USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). One was to see if detection of parasite DNA was possible in rat blood in hopes of developing an early diagnostic test for humans.

The other was to determine the efficacy of a vaccine against RLW in local rats, but they concluded that a vaccine developed in Spain was not effective in stopping the development of RLW in rats under the conditions of the trial.

Dr. Susan Jarvi

They also are evaluating the possibility of RLW larvae transmission in catchment water. They were surprised to discover RLW larvae can live a long time in rainwater. Another surprising find is that rats can harbor dozens of adult worms in their hearts and lungs, which had to pass through their brains, with no apparent ill effect.

The research approaches include developing a qPCR test to estimate the parasite load in intermediate hosts (slugs and snails). This allows researchers to evaluate the level of infection looking for transmission "hotspots."

"We have evaluated how well some solutions are at killing RLW larvae," Jarvi says of the research activity. "We have determined that RLW larvae can live up to 20 days in rainwater, thus could likely live that long in catchment tanks."

"We determined that RLW DNA can be detected in the blood of infected rats at some time periods throughout infection. We are working on getting antibody-based diagnostic test running on-island."

The Mystery of Rat Lungworm Disease is a fun-filled activity book designed to help elementary-age children learn what to look for in their gardens and vegetables. Jarvi and other researchers in the state have made considerable progress towards reducing RLWD through educational and research approaches.

They have provided public forums, talks, handouts, brochures and are in the process of integrating RLWD education into the Hawai'i DOE curriculum. They produced and piloted an activity book, The Mystery of Rat Lungworm Disease, in four East Hawai'i schools for second graders.

"This was very well-received, and we are in the process of distribution across the islands and state," she says. The researchers also are developing a "junior investigator scientific journal that will encompass many STEM disciplines while learning about RLWD for tenth grade students."

Dr. Susan Jarvi

Jarvi and the RLWD research team are working with catchment tanks to test filtration and UV systems to see if RLW larvae can make it through. They conducted a pilot study to test volunteers for the presence of RLW antibodies to better understand the prevalence. They are working with Puna Medical Center and Clinical Lab for blood collection. Meanwhile, they continue to educate the community about RLWD and how to best prevent it.

"Our RLWD educational and research efforts will help save lives," says Jarvi. "RLWD is a very preventable disease, if you know about it. Education is key, and we are providing activity books to children who can then go home and educate their family."

Future goals of the RLWD project are to continue to educate the public toward minimizing infection, to develop reliable diagnostics for health providers, and develop management plans that would reduce slug, snail, and rat population numbers.

Jarvi received her master of science in veterinary and animal sciences (avian genetics) from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and her doctor of philosophy in biology (immunogenetics) from Northern Illinois University at DeKalb.

Dr.Jarvi's Rat Lungworm Overview

rat lungworm disease
Kaye Howe was living in Indonesia when her son contracted Rat Lungworm Disease in Oahu. Her son Graham, was hospitalized at the Hilo Medical Center on December 26, 2008 with Rat Lungworm Disease.

rat lungworm disease
Rebekah Uccellini Kuby worked in Hawaii doing community development and poverty alleviation projects for years. She has helped to create more than 23 organic gardens — many in areas once deemed to be food deserts.

rat lungworm disease
Graham McCumber is the son of Kaye Howe and has struggled with Rat Lungworm Disease for almost a decade. He has written a book about his journey.

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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