rat lungworm disease

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Coqui Frogs and Other Culprits

Coqui FrogResearchers last year identified rat lungworm in the invasive, incredibly noisy Coqui frogs, and last month published a scientific paper on their findings.

Lungworm is spreading throughout the environment. Itʻs not only in rats, and of course in humans but now in coqui frogs, but the scientists found it is also in centipedes, greenhouse frogs and even bufos.

The paper, "Occurrence of Rat Lungworm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis) in Invasive Coqui Frogs (Eleutherodactylus coqui) and Other Hosts in Hawaii, USA," was published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases. The lead author is Chris N. Niebuhr of the USDAʻs National Wildlife Research Center Hawai`i Field Station in Hilo. Co-athors are Susan I. Jarvi, Lisa Kaluna, Bruce L. Torres Fischer, Ashley R. Deane, Israel L. Leinbach, and Shane R. Siers.

It still is not yet clear what role the new carriers play in transmitting the disease to humans, but it is clear that the rat lungworm is finding a pliant host in some of them: "In the frogs and toads, multiple tissue types were positive, including stomach and intestine, muscle, liver, heart, and brain, indicating larval migration," the authors wrote.

Rat lungworm is a nematode, a tiny worm that can cause severe neurological symptoms in humans. Here is the Hawai`i Department of Health website on the disease.

Symptoms can go from nearly unnoticeable to severe pain and even paralysis.

Humans can be infected by, generally accidentally, eating it. Says the state Department of Health:

"You can get angiostrongyliasis by eating food contaminated by the larval stage of A. cantonensis worms. In Hawaii, these larval worms can be found in raw or undercooked snails or slugs. Sometimes people can become infected by eating raw produce that contains a small infected snail or slug, or part of one. It is not known for certain whether the slime left by infected snails and slugs are able to cause infection. Angiostrongyliasis is not spread person-to-person."

The many source of human infection in the Islands seems to have been from unnoticed infected worms on salad greens, but as the nematode moves into new hosts, there could be new sources of infection.

The new hosts are referred to as paratenic or transport hosts. They are now believed to include frogs, toads, lizards, centipedes, crabs and other species. And while you might not directly eat these things, you or your pets could still be at risk.

The paperʻs authors wrote: " Although the species discussed here are not known to be intentionally consumed by humans in Hawaii, the ingestion of infected hosts could still pose a threat to other animals, because rat lungworm can infect both domestic and wild animals such as dogs (Canis lupus familiaris), horses (Equus caballus), and birds."

Rat lungworm in rats is excreted in their feces, which can be eaten by snails and slugs, as well as other species. Humans have been infected when eating uncooked greens with live slugs on them.

With the disease now in frogs and toads and centipedes and the rest, new transmission could occur when uninfected rats eat infected specimens of those creatures. And with so many different carriers, it is possible new ways will emerge for humans to be impacted.

This is still an active area of research, the authors say, and more needs to be learned:

"Although our report of rat lungworm infections in frogs and centipedes implicates them as possible disease reservoirs, further investigations are warranted to better understand the role paratenic hosts may be playing in angiostrongyliasis transmission in Hawaii."

Courtesy of ©Jan TenBruggencate 2020

rat lungworm disease
Dr. Susan 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.

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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