rat lungworm disease

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Kane Tauanu'u


Kane Tauanu'u was diagnosed with rat lungworm disease in October of 2017. He and his family live on the Big Island but he was helicoptered out to Oahu for treatment.

On his first birthday, his mom says he is doing well and crawling again. They receive continuing care by making some trips back to Oahu for therapy at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children.

The state Department of Health had announced that a Pahoa infant — presumed to be Kane — was confirmed to have rat lungworm disease, the 17th person in the state that year.

"Kane's slowly getting better but it will take time. He had Rat Lungworm for 9 days when took him to his doctor, urgent care and Hilo Medical Center numerous times before they finally listened to me and did a blood sample on him."

"Can you imagine if my baby would have died from this? - with me knowing that I did my best to tell doctors to check his blood because in my gut i could feel that it wasn't the flu or him teething."

"I hope those guys feel real dumb for ignoring my instincts and I am glad that I was firm because the ER doctor wanted to send us home again without taking a blood sample. But, I refused to let that happen a second time around."

"Anyway, I am grateful that Kane is a fighter and I am positive that he will make a full recovery." said his mother, Santini N Dylan Tauanu'u.

Tauanu'u says slugs surround her Pahoa home, especially after rain. She thinks Kane accidentally ate a slug while crawling.

Tauanu'u and her husband have now taken precautions around the house. "One thing we definitely do differently, Kane is not allowed on the ground outside at all. If he goes outside, he has to be in a stroller or carried by someone," she said.

Every day, the family hoses down the backyard to get rid of slug or snail entrails. Shoes are not allowed inside the house.

"I have to be very careful not putting him on the ground, or if I do put him on the ground, make sure he's safe and clean," said Tauanu'u.

Eighty-two cases of rat lungworm disease have been reported to the state health department from 2007 to 2017. Fifteen of those cases were pediatric.

"While the disease likely has the same or similar effect on the central nervous system, infants and children may not and often do not present the same way or with the same complaints as infected adults do." said public health information coordinator Anna Koethe wrote in an emailed response to questions.

"They just may not be able to verbalize how they feel. For rat lungworm disease specifically, children may often exhibit behavioral changes, such as unusually bad temper, mood changes, or extreme tiredness."

Tauanu'u says doctors want to monitor Kane's development for the next year.

At 16 months old, she says he was developmentally at the one-year mark.

Kane barely talks and cannot walk on his own, but Tauanu'u says her son is progressing.

"A side effect to rat lungworm disease is the victim being paralyzed. He could have brain development problems. We're really hoping that's not the case with him," said Tauanu'u.

"Judging by the way he is now, I think that's not the case. I'm hoping not. For the most part, Kane is doing very well. He's a very happy, loving, joyful baby."

"This was an extremely unfortunate incident, with the infant currently hospitalized and receiving care," said Aaron Ueno, Hawaii Island District Health Officer.

"While the department is unable to provide specific information on this individual case, we can take this time to remind parents and caregivers about the importance of preventing infants and young children from putting slugs, snails, or other items in their mouths."

"We know that slugs, snails, and rats in all counties carry the parasite that can cause rat lungworm disease, so watching over young children is especially important."

"The Hawaii Island District Health Office is making a concerted effort to reach parents and caregivers of infants and young children by providing education and resources about rat lungworm disease prevention to our Women, Infants and Children and Early Intervention Services clients and our partners, including pediatricians and other healthcare providers."

DOH recommends all parents and caregivers of infants and young children take extra precautions, including:

Watch infants, toddlers, and children carefully while they are playing and make sure they are not picking up slugs, snails, or other objects from the ground and putting those into their mouths.

Help children properly wash their hands after playing and/or on the ground using running water and soap.

When consuming food and drinks, close and seal containers when not in use to prevent slugs and snails from crawling inside, especially when left on or near the ground.

Santini N Dylan Tauanu'u is concerned about his progress as he recovers from Rat Lungworm Disease.

"Right now, he is crawling," said Tauanuu, "but he still doesn't like to put pressure on his foot, so he doesn't stand up for a long period of time."

Ron Brandvold, President and CEO of Easter Seals Hawaii said that Kane's physical therapist in Hilo quit suddenly on January 2, 2018.

"Easter Seals is the only provider we have here that deals with pediatrics," said Tauanuu.

Brandvold said Easter Seals Hawaii is trying to hire a new physical therapist as soon as possible, but Tauanuu is having trouble finding another care provider for her son while the search continues.

"I've been trying to look for other physical therapists that do pediatrics, and a lot of them don't take young children, especially his age," said Tauanuu.

Brandvold said finding care on the neighbor islands can be challenging, which is why Easters Seals Hawaii is trying to get authorization from the state's early intervention section to send physical therapists from Oahu to the Big Island.

"Right now, we just do therapy at home on his terms," said Tauanuu, "I work with him as much as I can"

Tauanuu is trying her best, but the recovery process is slowing down, and her son needs help.

"I don't know what to do or where to turn to anymore," said Tauanuu.

Tauanuu said aside from physical therapy, her son needs speech therapy. She said the only words he can say are "Mama" and "Dada."

Tauanuu said her son's Med Quest coverage was also recently cut off, and she is working on resolving that issue.

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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