[News Blog] Mar 10, 2018

By Brigette Namata:

Knon 2

PAHOA, Hawaii (KHON2) – A Hawaii island baby is recovering from rat lungworm, though the family has concerns the disease has affected his development.

Kanehekili Tauanuu, also known as Kane, is 16 months old.

The Tauanuu family lives in the Puna district.

In September 2017, Santini Tauanuu took Kane to the emergency room twice for what she believed was the flu. Suspecting more, doctors in Hilo performed a spinal tap on the baby.

“It was maybe 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning and they told me his results,” said Tauanuu.

Doctors told the mother a helicopter would immediately take them to Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children.


“Everything happened so fast. That’s what made me freak out more. When you hear you’ve got to get medevaced, you know it’s serious,” said Tauanuu.

The 30-year-old mother said she did not know much about rat lungworm disease.

“I wasn’t really aware of rat lungworm and how serious it was, how a little snail or slug could carry such a bacteria. I never would think it would happen to me or my child,” Tauanuu said.

Kane spent nine days at Kapiolani Medical Center battling rat lungworm disease.

The Hawaii Department of Health described symptoms as a “slow-moving bullet through the brain.”

Rat lungworm is a parasite in snails or slugs that come in contact with rats. People can be infected when they eat an infected snail or slug, often from eating unwashed produce.


Tauanuu says slugs surround her Pahoa home, especially after rain. She thinks Kane accidentally ate a slug while crawling.

Tauanuu and her husband have now taken precautions around the house.

“One thing we definitely do differently, Kane is not allowed on the ground outside at all. If he goes outside, he has to be in a stroller or carried by someone,” she said.

Every day, the family hoses down the backyard to get rid of slug or snail entrails. Shoes are not allowed inside the house.

“I have to be very careful not putting him on the ground, or if I do put him on the ground, make sure he’s safe and clean,” said Tauanuu.

Eighty-two cases of rat lungworm disease have been reported to the state health department from 2007 to 2017.

Fifteen of those cases were pediatric.

“While the disease likely has the same or similar effect on the central nervous system, infants and children may not and often do not present the same way or with the same complaints as infected adults do,” public health information coordinator Anna Koethe wrote in an emailed response to KHON2.  “They just may not beable to verbalize how they feel. For rat lungworm disease specifically, children may often exhibit behavioral changes, such as unusually bad temper, mood changes, or extreme tiredness.”

Tauanuu says doctors want to monitor Kane’s development for the next year.

At 16 months old, she says he’s developmentally at the one-year mark.

Kane barely talks and cannot walk on his own, but Tauanuu says her son is progressing.

“A side effect (to rat lungwormdisease) is (him being) paralyzed. He could have brain development problems. We’re really hoping that’s not the case with him,” said Tauanuu.  “Judging by the way he is now, I think that’s not the case. I’m hoping not. For the most part, Kane is doing very well. He’s a very happy, loving, joyful baby.”

She adds that Kane has someone new to play with: a little brother named Kaulana.

“Kaulana is just a little over 2 weeks old,” she said.

Kane’s next checkup is on March 26.

The family will fly to Oahu so doctors at Kapiolani Medical Center can check on the toddler’s status.

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