The Dangers of Rat Lungworm
Why Washing Your Vegetables is Critical
Please allow me this space to share a personal story about my son Bud and to impress upon you the extreme importance of always thoroughly washing and inspecting any fresh produce you use. I hope by sharing this information someone else will be spared the horror my son is enduring.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, my son Bud lives in Hawaii. In 2017, he became extremely ill. At the time, he was working and living on an organic lettuce farm on the windward side of O’ahu. There is a dangerous parasite infecting most of the snails and rats that live in the wilds of Hawaii, called Rat Lungworm. Snails and slugs host this parasite and it does not harm them. It does infect and harm or kill the rats that ingest snails or snail droppings.
Human Infections of Rat Lungworm
If ingested by humans, this parasite can be deadly and the effects can last for the rest of your life. If not caught early, the parasite tunnels out of the intestines and up the spinal column into the brain. It burrows in the brain and causes severe nerve involvement. This infection causes a rare form of meningitis which can be deadly if not treated promptly properly.
In 2017, Bud accidentally ingested an infected snail and developed the most serious form of Rat Lungworm. He developed eosinophilic meningitis and severe nerve pain throughout his body and spent 5 weeks in the hospital. Bud is still dealing with the aftereffects of nerve pain flare ups that impact his daily life. His life is fundamentally different now, all because he ate an unwashed piece of lettuce.
While Rat Lungworm is classified as an emerging tropical disease, the parasite that causes this disease is also now found in California, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, and elsewhere.
While Rat Lungworm is classified as an emerging tropical disease, the parasite is now found in the continental U.S. In southern states now, it is spreading northward (see this article for more information, or this). This parasite can remain active for a while. Even in the slime trail left by a snail or slug crawling across a lettuce leaf, melon, or any produce.
Wash All Produce – Even Those You Will Peel
It is imperative that you protect yourself and your family by thoroughly washing and inspecting any fresh produce you bring in your home. Even if you’re going to peel or cut through a potato or melon or anything else, wash it thoroughly first. If you ever find a snail in your produce, it’s not worth the risk. Cook it and the snail to at least 185 degrees and throw it in the compost. This parasite is now found in other insects like centipedes, so don’t eat raw snails, slugs, or insects. Don’t drink from garden hoses, as snails like to hide in them.
Please share this information with everyone you know. Rat Lungworm Disease is a terrible thing to live with.
Peace and be well.