- Associated Press - Friday, February 24, 2017

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii lawmakers are considering putting hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight rat lungworm disease, a condition in which parasitic worm larvae infect people’s brains.

A bill being debated by legislators would provide an undetermined amount of funding to the University of Hawaii to spearhead research and prevention efforts to combat the potentially deadly disease, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported (https://bit.ly/2l6ufnp ).

UH researcher Sue Jarvi told lawmakers during a Wednesday briefing that it would cost about $350,000 and $400,000 to hire people to assist in her work on the disease.

There have been 58 cases of isle residents contracting the disease in the past decade, according to state Department of Health data.

But health officials say that number is likely higher because the disease, which is carried by rats and transmitted by snails and slugs, is underreported.

Jarvi said people contact her team to report that they may have contracted the disease at least once a week. She estimates Hawaii has had about five rat lungworm disease deaths in recent years.

While health officials say the disease will affect more people in coming years, some lawmakers expressed frustration during the joint Senate and House briefing Wednesday that there isn’t more information on how the disease is being transmitted and ways to prevent and treat it.

“Right now, I don’t even see a standardized protocol for treating this in our state,” said Rep. Richard Creagan (D, Naalehu-Captain Cook-Keauhou), who is a physician. “I think our front-line physicians need to know much, much better how to respond to potential cases and then know what to do immediately.”

While a majority of the state’s recent rat lungworm cases have been reported in Hawaii Island’s Puna district, health officials are urging lawmakers to address the disease as a statewide problem.

“Clearly outreach and education is what’s needed and it’s not just for the Big Island, it needs to be statewide,” Department of Health Director Virginia Pressler said. “This is probably going to be a growing issue and we aren’t going to be able to totally eradicate slugs or the rats.”


Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, https://www.staradvertiser.com

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