On the surface, it was the best of times. Ben Manilla, 64, and Eliza Lape, 57, eloped during a trip to Maui in January, a time Lape calls "a perfect two weeks," reports Maui News. But underneath, it was the worst of times, as a rat parasite was working its way through their systems—like "somebody was taking a hot knife and just stabbing me in different parts of my body," Lape tells Hawaii News Now. Both are recovering, but they are among the latest victims of a spike in local cases of what is known as rat lungworm disease. Maui alone has had six known cases so far this year, when the entire state of Hawaii averages 10 a year. The couple live in the San Francisco Bay Area and were diagnosed upon their return home. Both ended up in the hospital, and Manilla is still there.
"I've had several operations, two pneumonias, a blood clot," says Manilla, who lectures at Berkeley's journalism grad school. "Right now, I'm dealing with a kidney issue, all of which was spurred by the rat lung." It's not clear how they got the parasite, but it often spreads via snails or slugs that eat rat poop and are ingested themselves in unwashed or uncooked produce. In fact, about 80% of land snails in the Hawaiian islands have been found to be carriers of the parasite, notes CNN. “We were eating food from the garden, we were eating food from food stands, people were bringing us fruit and vegetables,” recalls Lape. “We have no idea, frankly, where we picked it up.” The formal name of the ailment is Angiostrongylus cantonensis, which the CDC notes is prevalent in Southeast Asia and tropical Pacific Islands. (Read more parasite stories.)