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A brain-invading parasite called rat lungworm has infected more than 80 people in Hawaii after they ate slugs and snails

A brain-invading parasite called rat lungworm has infected more than 80 people in Hawaii after they ate slugs and snails

The parasite enters the human body through ingestion of the snails or slugs that carry it.

The parasite enters the human body through ingestion of the snails or slugs that carry it.
  • A new comprehensive study of the rat lungworm parasite tallied 82 human cases between 2007 and 2017. Two of them were fatal.
  • Scientists know the disease is spread through mollusks like snails and slugs, but it’s not clear how it gets from there into the human body.
  • Once in the body, however, the parasite travels to the central nervous system. A healthy immune system can kill it, but makes you sick in the process.

A parasite found in rats, and spread to slugs and snails, has been making people in Hawaii sick for the past decade, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

Since 2007, 82 people have reported serious illness, including nausea, headache, and partial paralysis or blindness, believed to be from the parasite Angiostrongylus cantonensis, better known as the rat lungworm.

The parasite enters the human body when people eat snails or slugs carrying it. But, except in one case where a victim ate a slug on a dare, most people aren’t intentionally eating slugs. So how do they get infected?

Read more: An Australian man died eight years after eating a garden slug on a dare

Researchers theorize that people eating unwashed produce are ingesting tiny slugs or snails hidden in their leafy greens or fresh fruits

The study found that the majority of patients with rat lungworm reported that they ate unwashed produce at least some of the time. Researchers also looked at other potential factors, including food sources and food storage. While only two patients said they stored food outside, more than half said they stored some food in unsealed containers.

Researchers noted that other activities such as home-growing food and keeping pets (whose food can attract the slugs) may also increase the risk of infection.

Most of the patients had observed snails or slugs on their property, and two-thirds had seen evidence of rats.

Very small

Very small “semi-slugs” can carry high concentrations of the parasite and easily hide in produce, making humans sick.
Hawaii Department of Health

Researchers identified a particular species, known as a semi-slug, as an adept climber that seeks out food sources and carries a particularly high concentration of the parasite. The young of this species can be as small as 2 millimeters in length – about twice the width of the tip of a pencil. This would make them nearly impossible to spot lurking on a fresh bunch of leafy greens, and easy to swallow in a bite of raw apple or carrot.

Once inside the body, the parasite tries to attack the central nervous system.

The human body can kill the parasite before it reaches the brain, but the immune response causes serious illness

White blood cells flood the brain and spinal cord to fight off the invading rat lungworm, causing headache, stiff neck, and nausea. Sometimes, the parasite can lead to more serious symptoms like impaired vision and face or limb paralysis. In the most severe cases, it can lead to meningitis and, rarely, be fatal.

Symptoms vary by age group; the study included people who were between 9 months and 82 years old. Children are more likely to experience fever, vomiting, and fatigue, while people older than 10 often reported head and body aches.

In all but a few cases, the infection does not require treatment but dissipates on its own after the parasites die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In serious cases, medication can treat the symptoms of the parasite, which are caused by the body’s immune system and not the bug itself.

The study did not find a rise in cases over time. However, researchers noted that infections occurred mainly during the rainy season, and were concentrated in particular “hot spot” areas on the east side of the big island of Hawaii.

Meet the youngest Malaysian ever to compete in the Ironman World Championship 2018

Meet the youngest Malaysian ever to compete in the Ironman World Championship 2018

Swimming coach Lim Chee Yong won third place in his age group (18-24 years old), with a time of 11:45:25, at the 2017 Ironman Malaysia event held in Langkawi, Kedah. The icing on the cake was being crowned the Best Langkawian at the same event.

His win automatically qualified him for the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, which will be held tomorrow. He will compete with top qualifiers from around the world.

Born in Langkawi, on Sept 29, 1997, Lim is the eldest of three siblings.

After he completed his secondary schooling, he took up running. At first, he ran distances of 3km, 5km and 10km. Gradually, he developed an interest in long-distance running. His first long-distance run covered 30km, just after a month of running.

He has his uncle to thank for introducing him to Ironman Malaysia. After seeing his capabilities, his uncle – who is also a triathlete himself – suggested that Lim try the triathlon and registered him for the 2016 Ironman Malaysia.

For the World Championship in Hawaii, Lim will be the first Langkawian and the youngest Malaysian ever to compete.

In April, he took part in the 2018 Ironman 70.3 Bintan in Indonesia. He came in second in the 18-24 years category.

“You have to be passionate, consistent and disciplined in order to achieve your goals,” says Lim.

“Most importantly, is enjoy your race, your surroundings and also the pain!” he quipped.͟

Below is a Q&A with the sportsman.

What is your greatest strength?

My love and passion for this sport.

How do you handle stress and pressure?

By asking friends for their advice and opinions and trying to visualise a solution for a win-win outcome. And stay calm and focus on the big picture.

What has been your greatest accomplishment as an athlete?

The moment I crossed the finish line and found out that I had finished top three in my age group (18-24 years old) for 2017 Ironman Malaysia and qualified for Ironman Kona World Championship 2018!

What excites you the most about a career as an athlete?

To beat my personal best for triathlon races and try my best to inspire people to follow their dreams!

You are a part-time swimming coach. How do you find time for training?

I’m a part-time swim coach under the Gogetter Triathlon Squad. Normally our coaching class starts from late evening until night, so I train two sessions per day (morning and afternoon) before I start my coaching session.

Can you list down five fun facts about yourself?

i. I learnt how to swim via YouTube, three months before 2016 Ironman Malaysia (my first ever triathlon race).

ii. Never been overseas before. My upcoming race in Kona is my first overseas trip!

iii. Never travelled alone before.

iv. I have a big appetite!

v. Mummy’s Boy.

Can you share with us your nutrition plan when doing triathlon?

For Ironman distance, I will have breakfast (two pieces of bread and hot drinks) two to two-and-a-half hours before a race. For Bike Leg, I will have one energy gel every 45 minutes, one organic energy bar and two bottles of ultra-endurance drinks. For Run Leg, I will take one energy gel every 30 minutes. For post-race, I make sure to have my usual recovery drink, which is a whey protein drink.

You are the first Langkawian to qualify for Ironman Kona in Hawaii. How do you feel about that?

I feel very grateful and lucky to have strong support from LADA’s (Langkawi Development & Authority) and Langkawian friends in my journey to Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. I’m proud to represent Langkawi and Malaysia in my biggest dream race ever! I will try my very best to finish strong in one of the toughest races in the world, and make Langkawi and Malaysia proud!

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