There’s a disease that got a lot of media attention a few years ago. When I was researching a bit more, I was surprised to learn it is endemic in Hawaii, but has only been a reportable disease since 2007. And it has been documented as a parasitic disease of humans in Hawaiʻi and other Pacific islands since the early 1960’s. I had been under the impression it was a fairly new problem.
It involves rats, primarily Rattus rattus and Rattus norvegicus. Those Norwegians!
In those first 10 years of reporting, 2007-2017, Hawaii health officials identified 82 cases of rat lungworm disease, two of which were fatal. In both 2020 and 2021, each year there have been two reported cases on Hawaii island. In other words, it’s a very small risk, but it captured our imaginations once the media shined its spotlight. I know people who avoided salads or couldn’t stop the mental chatter, hesitating, if they ate one. “Hope I don’t get rat lungworm.”
[Aside: I’ve read a few non-fiction books that elaborate on many scenarios which illustrate how poor we humans are at understanding true risk. I highly recommend Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow for examples. I recall the motorcyclist I saw riding with his COVID cloth mask on and no helmet.]
Rat lungworm disease, or angiostrongyliasis, is caused by Angiostrongylus cantonensis, a parasitic nematode passed by infected rats in their feces. Snails, slugs, and other intermediate hosts might eat the larvae, and humans might inadvertently eat the parasite by eating a raw or undercooked intermediate host.
In any case, all this buildup to my personal story. We started to get a lot of slugs in our courtyard garden, which includes some edibles. The University of Hawaii’s CTAHR (College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources) is my go-to credible resource for all things agricultural. They have a four-page document about how to manage slugs, snails, etc.
I decided to hand-harvest the slugs, which is supposed to be a surprisingly effective technique. They say not to touch them with your hands. So I was out using disposable wooden chopsticks and putting them in my salt solution to kill both the slugs and any rat lungworm larvae.
It was astounding to see how many we had! Once you get into it, you begin to see where they eat, hang out, hide, etc. And you can’t see one without adding it to your disgusting slug soup. I’d puff out an exasperated sigh and go after the one, and then, of course, I’d see others. There were a few times I was tardy to meals because I was picking slugs. One friend said I should compose a photo with this lovely dish, with a nice place setting and salt & pepper on the side. Another friend said I could dry them and sell them to certain cooks.
I hadn’t even realized they were completely munching away one of our ornamentals. I hadn’t been closely watching, but it was dying off. Perennials sometimes do that, so I thought it was just part of the cycle. After I picked tens of slugs off it, after two weeks the greenery has been returning. The slugs weren’t fond of the ornamental with the blue flowers behind the rescued plant in the foreground.
To touch on another pet topic of mine … wild pigs. I think they’ve taken up residence here and/or at my neighbor cousins’. We hear their dogs barking and we see their spotlights on at weird times of night. We hear the pigs, too. Recently we’ve been hearing them when we’re still awake, so now we’ve seen them. Big, black. And last night the cat alerted us by her rapt attention to something outside. We went out to investigate, and she promptly scampered under the bed. Scary monsters! A family of five were on the coffee road right next to our bedroom. Not fond of the bright flashlight, they scampered into the high weeds.
On the coffee front, real picking is happening right now. Real, as in a nice, sizable amount of coffee. The earlier two pickings were 100-ish and 200-ish pounds, respectively. That’s fresh fruit, mind you. We just had to get that little bit of ripe fruit off the trees. That’d end up as about 30 pounds roasted, probably less, because the quality of the first fruit isn’t as good. But now it’s that time of year when the coffee farms will all be getting busy.
Yet one last different topic … this pandemic. School’s back in session for a few weeks now, and our end-of-summer holiday, Labor Day, is coming up. It was around our mid-summer holiday, July 4, when I wrote a blog post about emerging from the pandemic. I was feeling optimistic then. Life felt like it was expanding, and now it feels like it’s contracting.
How quickly things changed. Hawaii is experiencing its worst number of COVID cases of this entire pandemic and the ICU bed availability situation is, or is becoming, critical. Mayor Roth has requested approval from Governor Ige for stricter COVID-19 restrictions. Our allowed indoor and outdoor gathering sizes have shrunk. Some activities have been shutting down again. Ironman Kona is postponed for a third time. We won’t be returning to the stricter restrictions of early 2020, but a different flavor of them. Our in-laws canceled their plans to visit us; the US still isn’t allowing Norwegians in. It’s feeling more difficult to keep on keeping on, to do our collective kuleana (loose translation, responsibility) in safely getting through this situation, physically, mentally, and economically.
One day at a time — this is enough. Do not look back and grieve over the past for it is gone; and do not be troubled about the future, for it has not yet come. Live in the present, and make it so beautiful it will be worth remembering.Ida Scott Taylor