Keeping Our Gardens Safe

Addressing the Spread of Rat Lungworm Disease and the Zika Virus

Grow Some Good and Maui School Garden Network are working together to address the spread of Rat Lungworm Disease and the Zika virus on Maui.

As recent news reports have indicated, Rat Lungworm Disease, or RLWD, has come to Maui via its predominant, intermediate host the semi-slug. According to the Rat Lungworm Working Group Facebook Page, “It is among the most serious threats to human health of all diseases carried by wildlife in Hawaii, and in many other tropical and subtropical countries around the world.” Humans can become infected by unknowingly consuming intermediate hosts, like the semi-slug, or paratenic hosts, like prawns and land crabs, that contain the infective third stage larvae. This can also occur through eating fresh produce contaminated by “slug trails” or slime containing the larvae.

The Zika virus has been reported in at least one case on Maui. This mosquito borne virus can cause birth defects and neurological disorders, and infects humans through mosquito bites. It can also be picked up from an infected person and spread via the mosquito to other humans. Most cases in the US have been reported by people who have travelled to an area where the disease is circulating, primarily Latin America. However, there have also been cases where the virus has spread from an infected human, via mosquito, to another human.

In conjunction with Maui School Garden Network, the Department of Health, Department of Agriculture and the Hawaii Island Rat Lungworm Working Group in the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy at the University of Hawaii, Hilo, Grow Some Good is working to reduce the spread of RLWD and the Zika virus through a variety of approaches.

School Safety

Maui School Garden Network has contacted each school principal and school garden coordinator in Maui County to provide a Maui Island update on RLWD. This update includes best practices for RLWD prevention, including integrated pest management (IPM) procedures, safety precautions, and methods for disposal of slugs.

Schools have received a School Garden Safety Manual, produced by Hawaii Farm to School and the School Garden Hui. This manual covers safe growing practices and safe food handling practices.

Training School Garden Educators

School Garden coordinators across Maui have received training on several areas in the last few months, including safe food handling, preventing infection, safety precautions in handling semi-slugs and other carriers, and preventing mosquito reproduction by removing standing water around garden areas.

This training contains a set of lessons to be taught to students. It includes specific lessons on IPM, and about the Rat Lungworm lifecycle, both which meet the current curriculum science standards. Through these lessons, students can learn garden planning, pest detection, and how parasites live and grow, as we address these important community issues.

Tracking Data

More data is needed to understand the lifespan of the Rat Lungworm and its hosts and carriers. Through our network of school gardens, there is an opportunity to contribute data to current research projects.

Using safety methods recommended by the Department of Health, garden staff can safely collect and count the number of semi-slugs found in each garden, tracking factors such as region, date, moon phase and weather.  Submitting this information helps grow the database and help inform the researchers.

Public Outreach and Information

Grow Some Good is actively providing information about RLWD and the Zika virus to the public through presentations at our volunteer Work & Learn Days conducted at school gardens across Maui, and information shared in our monthly eNewsletter and Facebook page.

Community Meetings have been taking place across the island. More are scheduled soon:

  • Wednesday, April 19 – Kula Community Center – Growers and Landscapers Meeting – 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm
  • Tuesday, April 25 – Kahului – UHMC – Community Service Building by Extension Services (CTAHR)- Growers and Landscapers Meeting 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm
  • Wednesday, April 26  -Pukalani – Hannibal Tavares Community Center 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm

More Information

Please join us at a meeting in your area to learn more. For online references, please see the Hawaii State Department of Health website for information on Rat Lungworm Disease, and for more information on the Zika Virus.

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