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Couple Contracts Rare Parasite During Hawaiian Honeymoon

First Posted: Apr 14, 2017 03:20 AM EDT
A Snail
A couple's Hawaiian honeymoon becomes an unplanned hospital visit. (Image for representation only.)
(Photo : Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

By now, everyone would have known the name Maui as a demigod in Hawaiian culture and one of the main characters in last year's Disney hit, Moana. However, Maui is also the name of Hawaii's second-largest island, a place for tourists, but less developed than the rest of the Pacific Island state.

On the beaches of Hana are black sand beaches, clear blue waters and a rich, tropical foliage barely touched by civilization. It is here that newlyweds Ben Manilla and Eliza Lape planned their honeymoon, but the experience was less than ideal. Manilla, who is a lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley, said, "I've had several operations, two pneumonia, a blood clot; right now, I'm dealing with a kidney issue."

All these were spurred by a parasitic disease caused by rat lungworm, which he contracted during his stay on the Hawaiian island. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the disease is caused by Angiostrongylus cantonensis, which is a parasite that affects the brain as well as the spinal cord. It is prevalent in tropical islands, especially in Southeast Asia and in the Pacific Isles. However, it is also known to have spread in other areas including Africa, Latin America and even in the United States.

CNN reported that most cases of rat lungworm disease result from consuming raw or undercooked snails and slugs that have been infected. However, this is not limited to exotic food experiences, as poorly washed vegetables like lettuce may leave these slugs unnoticed. Transmission of the disease can also be an issue when people eat infected crabs, shrimps or frogs, although these are said to be less common incidents.

There have already been nine confirmed cases of rat lungworm disease in 2017. Dr. Sarah Y. Park, chief of the Disease Outbreak Control Subdivision in the Department of Health, said that of the nine confirmed cases, eight required hospitalization. Nonetheless, there had been no deaths so far.

In a CBS Philly report, it was noted that rat lungworm disease has been an endemic in Hawaii for at least 50 years, but other states should also be on the lookout. While no human cases have been confirmed in mainland U.S., two primate deaths have been linked to the parasite in Miami in 2003 and 2012.

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