Disease & Illness

This Couple Contracted Rat Lungworm Disease On Their Hawaii Honeymoon—Are You At Risk?

Here's how to protect yourself.

Rat lungworm disease is as bad as it sounds.

A parasite that affects the brain and spinal cord, this disease can often cause severe health problems in the infected party and can even result in death. One couple honeymooning in Hawaii learned about this disease the hard way, and now they want you to protect yourself.

“My symptoms started growing to feeling like somebody was taking a hot knife and just stabbing me in different parts of my body,” 57-year-old Eliza Lape told CBS. Lape, who married Ben Manilla, 64, in January, has since recovered from the disease, but her husband is still in the hospital after spending a month in the ICU.

The newlyweds spent two weeks in the Hana area of Hawaii, on the island of Maui. Their honeymoon was fantastic, but two weeks after they returned to San Francisco, Lape and Manilla began to feel ill.

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“I’ve had several operations, two pneumonias, a blood clot,” Manilla, who teaches at the University of California at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, told KGBM. “Right now, I’m dealing with a kidney issue, all of which was spurred by the ratlung.”

Photo courtesy of Ben Manilla/CBS

So how did this poor couple get infected with this atrocious parasite? That’s the problem—doctors aren’t sure.

Rat lungworm can be carried by rats and transmitted by snails and slugs. You can reduce your risk of contracting the disease by carefully washing fruits and vegetables, but officials provide no other guidance.

Heather Stockdale Walden, an assistant professor in the department of infectious diseases and pathology at the University of Florida, told CNN that rat lungworm disease has “been endemic in Hawaii for at least 50 years, so it’s been there for a while.”

According to health officials in Maui, six incidences of rat lungworm disease have been reported over the past three months on the island. Half of the cases have been confirmed. A seventh case concerns a Maui woman who thinks she contracted the parasite while on the island of Hawaii, says Maui District Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang.

The Hawaii State Department of Health says that people shouldn’t touch snails or slugs with their bare hands. They also recommend that snakes, freshwater prawns, crabs and frogs should be boiled for at least five minutes before eating. Lettuces and other vegetables where snails and slugs are often found should be washed extremely carefully.

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The good news is although Manilla’s case was extremely severe, Walden says most cases are not. If you’ve been to Hawaii recently, however, and ate a bunch of salad, you might want to keep an eye on any flu-like symptoms.

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