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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A Review of Rat Lungworm Infection and Recent Data on Its Definitive Hosts in Hawai‘i

  • Author(s): Niebuhr, Chris N.
  • Jarvi, Susan I.
  • Siers, Shane R.
  • et al.

Rat lungworm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis) is a zoonotic nematode that causes rat lungworm disease (angiostrongyliasis), a potentially debilitating form of meningitis, in humans worldwide. The definitive hosts for rat lungworm are members of the genus Rattus, with gastropods as intermediate hosts. This parasite has emerged as an important public health concern in the U.S., especially in Hawai‘i, where the number of human cases has increased in the last decade. Here we discuss the current knowledge of the rat lungworm, including information on the life cycle and host species, as well as updates on known infection levels. Three species of rat have been unintentionally introduced and become established in Hawai‘i, all of which have been documented as definitive hosts of rat lungworm. Our recent findings indicate that infection levels in rats can vary by species and age. Based on these findings, we also suggest the possibility that R. rattus populations in Hawai‘i are capable of developing some form of acquired immunity to infection over time, which could have important management implications related to control operations. Information on rat lungworm infection levels and distribution in Hawai‘i is lacking, especially in rat definitive hosts, and the USDA National Wildlife Research Center and the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo are continuing efforts to help fills these gaps in knowledge.

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