CoP helps teach elementary children about Rat Lungworm Disease

February 15, 2013

A University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo College of Pharmacy researcher has developed a fun-filled activity book to teach children about a serious health topic associated with cleaning and cooking vegetables in the tropical Hawaiian environment.

Dr. Susan Jarvi, associate professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, is distributing a book and poster about Rat Lungworm Disease (Angiostrongylus cantonensis) to elementary school children in Hilo. But she wants everyone in Hawaiʻi to know more about the rare parasitic infection that can cause paralysis, coma or death.

“There’s a real need for better education of the public and research that no one else is doing if we want to decrease risk of infection,” said Jarvi, who has been conducting research on ways to detect the virus in the blood as well as testing possible vaccines and evaluating vegetable washes that may be the most effective in killing the A. cantonensis larvae that causes the damage.

The disease-causing organism reproduces in rats and is transferred to slugs and snails. Eating raw snails and slugs, intentionally or unintentionally, infects people, and the larvae can hide in salads or other uncooked vegetables. Symptoms that appear at the onset of the infection can appear similar to other infections and make it difficult to diagnose.

“The activity book project is just a start of our efforts to reduce rat lungworm infection on the Island of Hawaiʻi through educational and research approaches,” Jarvi said. “This year we are concentrating on integrating Rat Lungworm Disease education into the Department of Education (DOE) curriculum in second grade, but on a larger scale we plan to integrate it into the curriculum in multiple grades.”

The activity book, designed and illustrated by local artist Hopper Sheldon of Hopper’s Art, is called “The Mystery of Rat Lungworm Disease.” It contains 22 pages of information, coloring, puzzles and clues that are designed to help elementary-age children learn what to look for in their gardens and vegetables and what to do if they spot something suspicious on their food.

Hoping to take the activity book to as many second-grade classrooms as possible, Jarvi is continually contacting teachers on other islands and searching for feedback.

For further information, contact Dr. Susan Jarvi.

See more news from 2013.