Tourist Infected by Brain-Invading Parasite After Eating Slug on a Dare in Hawaii

Photo: Simon Cope (Flickr)

Hawaii health officials are warning residents and visitors to avoid slugs, snails, and rats after the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that three travelers visiting the state were recently infected with rat lungworm disease. One visitor got the disease because the individual ate a slug.

The notice, issued last week, warns people to inspect produce and wash fruit and vegetables that could have small slugs or snails. These gastropods get the rat lungworm parasite (also known as an Angiostrongylus Infection) by eating rat feces, and rats eat the infected slugs and snails, forming a continuous vile circle. Sometimes, humans get looped in by eating an uncooked snail. Once the parasite has infected a host, it can move to the brain and cause a type of meningitis, and eventually lead to death. There is not a treatment for rat lungworm disease, according to the CDC.

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The recent Hawaii health department notice states that it does inform travelers visiting Hawaii about the disease through signage, but acknowledges it needs to do better. “We recognize that there is more work to be done in educating residents and visitors and making sure they know how to prevent the spread of this disease,” the notice reads.

Yes, clearly there is more work to be done, as one of the recent cases occurred because a traveler guzzled a damn slug. According to the state health warning, the individual “became infected by purposely eating a slug on a dare.”

That individual was infected with rat lungworm, in December 2018, bringing the official count of Hawaii cases to 10 for that year. The state found 17 confirmed cases in 2017. So far this year, there have been five confirmed cases in Hawaii. Prior to 2017, the state only had two documented cases in two decades. 

In 2017, scientists also found traces of the parasite in Florida. Research shows the parasite may be spreading thanks to climate change, as subtropical gastropods are able to thrive in the U.S. mainland.

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If rat lungworm does make it to your state, be sure to be vigilant with your produce—and avoid eating raw slugs.

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Jennings Brown

Senior editor and reporter at Gizmodo