A Watertown, MN man will make a full recovery from paralyzing rat lungworm disease acquired during his visit to Hawaii’s Big Island last November and December, his doctors now say.
Eric Reinert, 22, visited the Big Island’s Puna District to learn about organic farming practices and was exposed to the dangerous rat lungworm disease, or eosinophilic meningitis, which is usually passed to humans by eating produce infested with very tiny snails and slugs.
These semi-slugs, with a vestigial partial shell, are nearly transparent and can contain thousands of parasitic nematodes. The name of the disease stems from the fact that the parasites at one point in their life cycle live in a rat’s lung — although that is not the stage in which humans are infected.
Reinert did not know anything about rat lungworm when he went to Hawaii to explore his interest in organic farming. He said the people he was staying with did not know anything about it either.
The paralysis left him dreading every movement, which he called “horrible, awful, terrible,” and caused him to lose 50 pounds.
Big Island residents and home gardeners around Hilo are periodically warned about rat lungworm diseases, advised to look out for “slime trails,” and urged to carefully and thoroughly wash locally grown produce.
Reinert is now using a wheelchair and preparing to learn to walk again. He is getting better, but the side of his face remains numb.
Crippling parasites have not changed his goals, however. Reinert still wants to go into organic agriculture.