State investigates rat lungworm cases; Maui victim describes pain worse than childbirth

Tricia Mynar says her recovery has been incredibly painful.

A Maui woman says she was in more pain than childbirth after getting sick from rat lungworm disease.

We first heard about this case from a viewer via the Report It feature on our website, so we started checking around.

The disease is spread by snails or slugs and affects your central nervous system. Someone eating raw fruits and vegetables can end up eating a small snail or slug, or the slime they leave behind, if the produce is not washed.

The Hawaii Department of Health says it’s been investigating cases on Hawaii Island and Maui.

The latest confirmed case is a patient on Maui. While health officials can’t confirm how she got the disease, Tricia Mynar tells KHON2 she believes she got it from a salad she ate while visiting Hawaii Island.

She says she wants to stay strong for her family and prevent others from going through what she went through.

“I don’t want people to experience this, because I’m a preschool teacher by trade. I would hate for a child to go through this,” Mynar said. “Today’s pain is like someone stuck an ice pick in my collarbone, chest, back of my neck. Every day, the pain differs.”

How to properly wash your produce

What’s the best way to ensure your fruits and vegetables are properly washed? We turned to health officials to find out.

According to Peter Oshiro, program manager of the DOH Sanitation Branch, says you don’t need a special soap or wash marketed for fruits or vegetables.

“if you thoroughly wash it with plain, running water, that’s the most effective way,” he advised. “The best thing for especially leafy greens is to make sure all the leaves are thoroughly washed. Don’t just leave the whole head of lettuce and rinse the outside and think it’s been thoroughly washed. You actually have to start peeling it off.”

Oshiro also recommends lightly rubbing the produce with your (also washed) hands or a soft brush that can clean your produce without bruising it.

He adds that state law requires permitted food establishments to thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables prior to use, even if they’re going to be cooked.

In February, Mynar traveled to Hawaii Island for work. She believes she ate a salad that started it all.

“I’m a mom of three. (Childbirth) was like eating ice cream compared to this,” she said. “The level of pain, the majority of it is in your head. The pain is just excruciating.”

State Sen. Josh Green, D, Kona, Kau, is a physician on Hawaii Island. He says he’s working with the DOH to create a public safety awareness campaign.

“This kind of conversation is what we need. We need a lot of people talking,” he said. “We need a comprehensive map of where cases are and how many. In my community, I’ve heard of lots of cases, including fatalities, where immune systems have weakened.”

The best way to prevent rat lungworm disease is to thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables before consuming them.

“What happens is, it’s in the rat. It’s in their lung,” Green explained. “The worms, about this long, ultimately have larvae. They bust out of the rat, then they poop, and then slimy mollusks go over them. It can affect your lettuce. It can affect your vegetables. That’s why you’ve got to either cook the heck out of these slugs or probably snails, because I don’t think people are eating slugs, or really wash your lettuce.”

Mynar is recovering with family and she is learning to walk again with a walker.

Green says rat lungworm disease can be treated with antibiotics.

Symptoms include headaches, a stiff neck, tingling or pain in the skin, fever, nausea, and vomiting. They normally appear within one to three weeks of eating the slug or snail.

Most people recover without any treatment, but occasionally, the infection can be fatal.

Click here for more information on rat lungworm disease from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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