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Rare form of meningitis plagues 2 from Big Isle


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POSTED: Thursday, January 22, 2009

WAILUKU » A woman has shown signs of emerging from a coma on the Big Island, while a man remains unconscious on Oahu from a parasitic disease sometimes associated with eating home-grown produce.

Silka Strauch, 38, a yoga instructor, was able to blink her eyes when a nurse entered her room and called her name at Hilo Medical Center earlier this week, said her friend Kristina Mauak.

Strauch also looked at her parents, Ralph and Gisela, and later took a deep breath at Mauak's request.

Mauak said yesterday that Strauch is now breathing on her own and was in a lighter comatose state but has not emerged from her coma.

Mauak said Silka's parents, who are from Germany, wanted to thank the public for their support, including monetary donations that are helping to bring her brother to the Big Island Saturday.

"They're overwhelmed by the incredible compassion," Mauak said.

Strauch, who is suffering from rat lungworm disease, slipped into a coma weeks ago.

Meanwhile, Graham McCumber, 24, a construction worker and Big Island resident, remains in a coma at the Queen's Medical Center in Honolulu.

The state Department of Health issued an advisory yesterday reminding the public to wash produce thoroughly to help to prevent exposure to pesticides, bacteria and parasites such as that which causes rat lungworm disease.

State officials said six probable cases of the illness occurred in 2008, and all of them were Big Island residents who regularly ate fresh raw vegetables from backyard gardens.

Health officials said signs of rat lungworm disease can include severe headaches, nausea, vomiting, neck stiffness and other problems related to the brain and spinal cord.

State health officials said most patients recover from the infection without treatment. The parasite Angiostrongylus cantonensis causes a rare form of meningitis called "eosinophilic meningitis" or "angiostrongyliasis," state health officials said.

Health officials said the parasite is found in snails, slugs and freshwater prawns, crabs, fish and possibly the flatworm in Hawaii.

Officials warned that eating uncooked snails, slugs, freshwater prawns and fish can cause the rare infection, which can lead to serious illness.

Health officials said freshwater prawns, crabs or fish and mollusks such as snails should be cooked thoroughly before eating. Sufficient heat, boiling three to five minutes, kills the parasites.

A new species of slug called Parmarion martensi was noticed in Hawaii in 1996 and has been associated with an outbreak of lungworm disease in Okinawa in 2000.

Michael Hadfield, a professor of zoology at the University of Hawaii, said the slug comes from Cambodia and tends to climb up objects.