Rare brain parasite cases spread in Hawaii

Story highlights

  • 6 people on Maui and 3 on Hawaii have confirmed cases of rat lungworm disease
  • The parasite is often spread through consuming raw snails or slugs
  • It can cause a form of meningitis; no deaths have been reported among the latest cases

(CNN)The Hawaii State Department of Health has confirmed six cases of rat lungworm disease on the island of Maui and three cases on the Big Island over the past three months, an official said Monday. No deaths have been reported.

Rat lungworm disease, a parasite officially known as Angiostrongylus cantonensis, affects the brain and the spinal cord, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Three possible cases on Maui are also under investigation along with one suspected case on Hawaii, said Janice Okubo, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health. The confirmed cases on Maui involve four residents and two visitors, and the confirmed cases on Hawaii involve residents only.
    Typically, the state gets reports of one to nine cases of rat lungworm each year, with two related deaths since 2007, Okubo said.
    "The investigation is fluid and the cluster of cases, though not all confirmed, are very concerning," Okubo wrote in an email.
    Rat lungworm disease affects the brain and the spinal cord.
    The state cannot confirm how each person became infected, "but we do know that people can acquire the parasite by consuming raw or underc