U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


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Jarvi SI, Quarta S, Jacquier S, Howe K, Bicakci D, Dasalla C, et al. (2017) High prevalence of Angiostrongylus cantonensis (rat lungworm) on eastern Hawai`i Island: A closer look at life cycle traits and patterns of infection in wild rats (Rattus spp.). PLoS ONE 12(12): e0189458. https://doi. org/10.1371/journal.pone.0189458


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The nematode Angiostrongylus cantonensis is a zoonotic pathogen and the etiological agent of human angiostrongyliasis or rat lungworm disease. Hawai`i, particularly east Hawai`i Island, is the epicenter for angiostrongyliasis in the USA. Rats (Rattus spp.) are the definitive hosts while gastropods are intermediate hosts. The main objective of this study was to collect adult A. cantonensis from wild rats to isolate protein for the development of a blood-based diagnostic, in the process we evaluated the prevalence of infection in wild rats. A total of 545 wild rats were sampled from multiple sites in the South Hilo District of east Hawai`i Island. Adult male and female A. cantonensis (3,148) were collected from the hearts and lungs of humanely euthanized Rattus rattus, and R. exulans. Photomicrography and documentation of multiple stages of this parasitic nematode in situ were recorded. A total of 45.5% (197/433) of rats inspected had lung lobe(s) (mostly upper right) which appeared granular indicating this lobe may serve as a filter for worm passage to the rest of the lung. Across Rattus spp., 72.7% (396/545) were infected with adult worms, but 93.9% (512/545) of the rats were positive for A. cantonensis infection based on presence of live adult worms, encysted adult worms, L3 larvae and/or by PCR analysis of brain tissue. In R. rattus we observed an inverse correlation with increased body mass and infection level of adult worms, and a direct correlation between body mass and encysted adult worms in the lung tissue, indicating that larger (older) rats may have developed a means of clearing infections or regulating the worm burden upon reinfection. The exceptionally high prevalence of A. cantonensis infection in Rattus spp. in east Hawai`i Island is cause for concern and indicates the potential for human infection with this emerging zoonosis is greater than previously thought.

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