2 in coma, 6 sick after eating slugs, snails in home-grown produce

Whenever there is an outbreak of Salmonella or E. coli in fresh produce like tomatoes or lettuce, I’m quick to stress that washing does little to remove dangerous microorganisms and that prevention on the farm is the first line of defense.

But I still wash produce. Like the tomato that some little kid may have emptied his nose on in the grocery aisle – a colleague talking about her sleepless nights notes how she’s drowning in a “sea of snot” from her kid – or been violated by norovirus-laden fingers from a promiscuous shopper, that’s why I wash tomatoes.

Yesterday the Hawaiian state Health Department
urged Hawai’i residents to thoroughly wash home-grown vegetables and avoid eating uncooked slugs or snails after several Big Island residents contracted a rare form of meningitis, leaving two of the patients in comas, from accidentally eating tiny slugs on home-grown vegetables.

All contracted a rare form of meningitis — or infection of the spinal fluid — called eosinophilic meningitis or angiostrongyliasis. It is caused by the rat lung-worm parasite, or Angiostrongylus cantonensis, and is spread when snails and slugs eat parasite-infested rat dung and move onto vegetables, where they are eaten by humans.

Yesterday’s advisory by the state Department of Health comes in the wake of six probable cases of rat lung-worm in Hawai’i in 2008. All those who got sick were residents of the Big Island and regularly ate fresh raw vegetables from backyard gardens.

State epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park said,

"We are in no way saying that vegetables are unsafe. I would advocate locally grown vegetables — just wash them."