- Associated Press - Saturday, May 19, 2018

HONOLULU (AP) - A toddler on Oahu has contracted rat lungworm disease, the island’s first case of the year, Hawaii health officials said.

The Hawaii Department of Health confirmed Friday that the parasite was found in the child’s spinal fluid following lab tests.

The child became sick earlier this month and was hospitalized, prompting health authorities to investigate, officials said. This case marks the state’s fourth confirmed diagnosis this year.

The adult form of the parasite, Angiostrongylus cantonensis, is only found in rodents. The larvae can spread from infected rodents through their feces, according to the health department.

People can become infected by ingesting the larvae, typically through eating raw or undercooked items.

The disease can spread to young children by what they put into their mouths.

“As parents and caregivers, we can help ensure their safety by being mindful of where our children play and what they may be putting in their mouths,” said Dr. Virginia Pressler, health department director. “The risk of rat lungworm disease exists statewide and we can all take steps to help prevent it by working together to reduce the risks in our own communities.”

The disease can cause debilitating conditions and result in a rare type of meningitis. The disease’s symptoms include severe headaches, neck stiffness, low-grade fever, nausea and vomiting. The symptoms usually appear one to three weeks after exposure, according to the department.

To prevent rat lungworm disease, the department recommends that residents wash all produce and store the items in sealed containers. Residents should also control snail, slug and rat populations around homes, gardens and farms.

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