Minn. Man Contracts ‘Rat Lungworm’ Disease In Hawaii

WATERTOWN (WCCO) — People travel to Hawaii to relax and get some sun and surf, but a Minnesota man’s trip to paradise turned into a nightmare after he contracted a paralyzing disease.

Eric Reinert is 22 years old and learning to walk all over again.

He’s taking baby steps and it can be hard to keep his balance, but they are a long way from where he was just a month ago.

He was stuck in a wheelchair in a Hawaiian hospital all because of a microscopic parasite.

“Every movement was just dreaded – horrible, awful, terrible,” said Reinert.

Last November, he traveled from Watertown, Minn. to Hawaii’s Puna District to learn about organic farming. His plan was to someday open his own farm back home.

But it wasn’t long before he started getting stomach cramps and his muscles began feeling weak. Then the unknown illness took a painful turn.

“Just staying as still as I could on my back was the only way I could be at peace for a little bit,” said Reinert.

His nervous system became hypersensitive. As he lay bed-ridden, it took a lot of mental willpower to move even an inch. Every vibration his roommates made caused excruciating pain.

“When they would walk I would just cringe at them walking. Just the slightest vibrations and in the hospital later on,” said Reinert.

After a few days, Reinert ended up in the hospital, and lucky for him, that’s where a doctor figured out what was wrong. He diagnosed him with “Rat Lungworm Disease.”

“A lot of people in Hawaii don’t know this exists, I didn’t know it existed. I wasn’t told about it because I’m sure the people I lived with didn’t know it exists,” said Reinert.

It’s extremely rare and it’s as nasty as it sounds. The lungworm parasite lives in rats and comes out in their droppings. A slug in Hawaii eats the parasite and that same slug lays its eggs on fruits and vegetables. Eating some produce that wasn’t washed is likely how he got the parasite.

Losing feeling in parts of his body is part of the disease.

“Honestly … this left side of my face is still numb,” said Reinert.

He was hospitalized for more than a month and still using a wheelchair when more than 40 of his closest friends and family welcomed him home.

Support continues to roll in through his Caring Bridge site, as his parents’ living room has become his recovery room.

Neighbors have been bringing Reinert and his family dinners a few times a week.

He’s lost 50 pounds, and is far removed from the local boy who won a state wrestling championship just a few years ago, but he knows baby steps will ultimately get him to where he needs to be.

“Every day it gets a little better. It’s kind of a roller coaster with the pain but overall, that’s what I tell everybody. Overall, I’m getting better every day,” he said.

Doctors said Reinert will eventually make a full recovery.

He said his mother and his faith in God have helped him get stronger.

His friends have already helped raise more than $3,500 for his medical bills including a race they organized on New Year’s Day.

More from John Lauritsen
  • Matt


    • Beware of Frauds

      Multi-Vits and Protein. Forget dangerous fruits and Veges promoted by the USDA and the farm lobby.

  • Jman

    This article begins by comparing this man to typical tourists in Hawaii. Later, we find out he was working on an organic farm. Why doesn’t the article attempt to connect this rare disease to his exposures on an organic farm? Would this parasite have been eliminated with pesticides not allowed on an organic farm? But, alas, the article does not even scratch the surface of these relevant issues.

    • Yirmin Snipe

      You assume that a mamby-pamby would dare to wash off anything they ate if it was organic… lord knows I’ve known some of these over educated nutters. They wont wash off the food because they think it removes some of the nutrients, they wouldn’t dare put a drop of bleach in the water to make sure washing the food worked because that is poison… no they want to use rain water if at all possible because tap water has chlorine in it… these folks are all Darwin Award winners waiting to happen.

    • SteveThomas

      FugginMoron, you are the only commenter here who inferred any partisan rhetoric. If you are so hypersensitive that you think organic anything has anything to do with politics, you really should think about seeing a psychologist for your paranoia.

      • Ironic

        “If you are so hypersensitive that you think organic anything has anything to do with politics…”

        @Steve If you are so hypersensitive that you think partisan only refers to politics, you really should think about seeing a psychologist for your paranoia.

        • Very Ironic


          Actually, that is exactly what partisan means. Maybe you should have consulted a dictionary before trying to be witty.

          • ImWitty

            Wow – one would think that’s a good idea. So I did: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/partisan Perhaps you also should follow your own advice.

            There is something on the internet (or interwebs or “magic information box”, depending on what you folk call it), called GOOGLE.COM. If you go there, you can find the same info.

            No – Partisan is not solely remanded to politics… but nice try. Thanks for thinking I’m witty though! :)

      • brassia

        Agree- I guess it was an Obama supporter!

      • FugginMorons

        Of course organic farming has political connotations and to pretend otherwise is either silly or ignorant depending on the aspersion caster.

        Whether you favor organic farming or modern petro-chemical farming, you should rinse the item before eating. Neither method removes the necessity of proper handling.

    • Kim

      No…pesticides don’t do a thing for rat lungworm. This is something again, spread normally by snail/slug contact with rat feces and then left on vegetable leaves. It is very rare and many cases are less toxic. I believe that the slug/snail that carries the parasite after contact with rat feces is a snail that had been unintentionally imported into Hawaii, and not every snail has the ability to move the parasite. An organic farm or normal farm are just as susceptible and the real key is to wash vegetables thoroughly. I actually live here in Hawaii.

    • nunya in ct

      Well said, I was thinking the same exact thing! Organic farming, my rear end. Pesticides when used properly are VERY beneficial.

      • lameramera62

        It is my belief that this person had the wrong diagnosis, the Dr’s probably are not informed about Guillian-Barre Syndrome. This has nothing to do with Organic Farming or presticides or for that matter rat feces.

    • JWnTX

      No guarantee pesticides would have killed the eggs–but I’ll guarantee they would have killed the slugs that laid the eggs. Idiot.

  • Kevin Sedlak

    When your only fertilizer is feces you should probably throughly wash the produce. Lots of people get e-coli from organic foods.

    • TrueMan

      FUN FACT: In Mexico, they use municipal sewer water on their produce. Enjoy your Mexican imported veggies!

      • orwellwasright

        Yep, this is a well known fact and is why I never buy produce from Mexico. They are probably still spraying with DDT over there as well.

        • John Moser

          There’s nothing dangerous about DDT. In fact, the illegalization of DDT has cost millions of lives(mostly children).

          • EddyJ

            >>In fact, the illegalization of DDT has cost millions of lives(mostly children).

            (mostly dark children) actually…

            …and that was the point all along. The people who wanted DDT banned were the same exact people complaining about the worldwide “population explosion”.

          • Bobby99

            The fake scientist Rachel Carson with her book started the DDT scare and now the UN has outlawed it’s use, Killing millions, mostly in Africa as a form of population control. UN is bad.

        • Rob

          Well known fact. They do that in San Jose CA as well.

  • denver bill

    Organic food is so good for you, because they don’t use those nasty fertilizers and pesticides. Organic farming ….. not so much.

  • Soldierfoley

    Stupid hippie. Pestacides were created for a reason. To keep these filthy critters off our food. I’ll bet he was saying to himself, “there’s no chemicals on this, so I can eat it right off the vine.” Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

    • orwellwasright

      Try spelling words correctly before you call someone else stupid. Keep eating those pesticides, soldier. Darwin’s theory in motion.

      • Ozymandius

        I’d say the evolution of safe, healthy food has been made possible by the correct use of chemicals and properly washing produce before consumption. Darwin’s theory applies here, but to the detriment of the hippie organic farmer.

        Back in the 70s, Dr.s started treating diseases not seen for hundreds of years due to “natural” and communal living, organics is just a new face on that failed movement.

        I’ve heard of people getting e. coli (and now “rat lungworm”) from organic food, but nothing from chemically treated produce.

        Better living through chemistry is my motto.

        • Stee

          There have been many outbreaks of e. coli traced back to non-organic produce. Google is your friend.

      • mel

        A handful of people died last year because they swam in fresh water that happened to have a micro organism in it that killed them. Bacteria and organisms are everywhere, and our exposure to them is inevitable. I’d still take organic food over the horrible chemicals.

        • Beware of Frauds

          After being sickened twice, in Mexico, I’ll take my chances with chemicals. They occur in measured doses that your body can deal with. Vegetables are oer-promoted by the USDA and farm lobby. Vitamins and Protein are what people need, not what used to be called Po’ Folk food.

    • Dr. Maddox

      Soldierfoley … you are a degenerate low IQ moron lacking any human qualities, but other than that I’m sure you’re a mental deficient too.

    • Dawn

      How sad that you have no compassion for the suffering of another human being!

    • Really

      Hey dumb @$$, he isn’t a hippie just because he has a beard and is looking into organic farming. He can’t shave due to the pain. He comes from a farming community and is looking into new farming trends that are producing higher returns. Its called good business sense. Something you obviously are not capable of comprehending.

      Do a little research and you will find out pesticides don’t prevent this from happening. Produce has to be washed regardless.

      And what the f… is wrong with you people laughing at someone who is fighting a serious illness. If you ever become sick I hope people will be more compassionate to you. But if not, I guess what goes around comes back around.

  • Dave

    There is a reason modern farming techniques has expanded life expectancy to 85 instead of 55. The whole Green religion thing is detrimental to the health of our country and the world.

    • orwellwasright

      Dave, yes, it is much better to have dirty food, dirty air and dirty water. Green is so unhealthy. You are right.

      • Stephen Tomory

        Sounds to me like dirty pesticide free food is what led to this poor man’s affliction.

    • Really

      This is a complete BS statement.

      Please site your source that relates the increase of life expectancy to farming techniques. You can’t. Most of the increase in life expectancy has been attributed to medical advances.

      All modern farming techniques have mainly accounted for is higher output.

      • Beware of Frauds

        Starvation kills people sooner or later.

      • Finbar

        I can site his sources from my house.

      • Buddy

        Care to compare the rate of food born illnesses prior to the invention of pesticides and antibacterial/antifungal treatments and the yield of organic crops compared to commercially fertilized crops? They weren’t invented for the hell of it. Here’s a start for your research:


  • James

    I think I’ll take my chances with the pesticides.

  • Barold

    Filthy Hawaiians. We don’t have that problem here in America, thank God.

    • michele

      WOW…you are the most ignorant person out there!

    • Larry

      @Barold, I hope for your sake you’re a troll and not actually that ignorant.

    • GDJ

      Ummm, hello, Barold. News flash: Hawaii is an American state, just like the other 49 that make up America. Oh, and by the way, how’s the weather under that rock you’re living under?

  • Diego Roswell

    On a similar note, Washington DC officials have made it illegal to kill rats. Instead they must be caught alive, and in family groups, and then relocated to a safe habitat, all at the property owner’s expense. This and the killing of the Keystone pipeline project are the type of laws that you can expect from another term with the Obamas who choose the militant environmentalists extreme views over common sense. REMOVE all rats NOBAMA2012.

    • Em Spearing

      Aww, I should have read your post before writing mine. Ya stole my thunder. Best reply yet. Kudos. Maybe we should should organize a rat deportation and Underground Rat Railroad movement to bring Hawaii’s disease-vectoring rats to Washington DC. They’d be in a perfect place.

    • nunya in ct

      BINGO, we have a winner! Obama and the rest of those Marxist, racist, Islamist anti American slimeballs have to be voted out of office. We can’t take another 4 years of his change!

    • lorindashacklett@yahoo.com

      Not to support this ridiculous law, but it IS still legal to kill Brown Rats (sewer rats), Black rats (roof rats) and house mice.

      • Peter Clausen

        Maybe DC will have a plague which leaves no neighborhoods intact and a good amount of this country’s slime will evaporate?

    • MorganGray

      Yeah, and Barry says that killing the pipeline and increasing unemployment benefits will create more jobs than the pipeline itself would have.

      What freakin’ planet does he live on anyhow?

  • bo1921

    You people in Washington D.C. pay attention. Your councilwoman, mary cheh, has passed legislation that rats must be relocated instead of eradicated. On top of that, when relocated, the rat families have to remain intact (??). She is a leftist tool in the mold of frances fox piven (their motto: overwhelm the system). So, to make a long story short DC, rat lungworn coming to you courtesy of the likes of mary cheh.

    • moreco2

      And here in Marxist Boulder, CO, it is illegal to kill the vermin known as Prairie Dogs. In fact, there are groups of these citizen loons that go out and help the baby vermin by putting eye drops in their eyes. They also have a university that blatantly brainwashes the kids where America is evil and Marxism is good. This is a true story.

  • sodakoboi

    The tourist materials tell you NOT to drink the untreated fresh water. All the books tell you to not even stand in it. The locals all tell you not to drink out of the catchment tanks, and if he lived in Puna he must have recerived warnings galore. People can get rat lungworm from even touching the silverish trails left by the slugs on unwashed fruit. Outside of all the stores, Malmo market and Orchidland and in Keaau there are banks of purified drinking water machines for like 35 cents a gallon and such. You gotta open ears and listen. Mother nature is harsh but lots of kind folks there who will take you in hand.

  • Al

    Hmmmm, I think I will be making a gift of organic pineapples to my congress person…

  • Another James

    Here is a good read about a particular pesticide mentions possible connections to autism and the complete devastation to our nations bioecosystem that’s worse than DDT. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/01/15/dr-don-huber-interview-part-2.aspx?e_cid=20120115_SNL_Art_1 YOU DECIDE

  • Artist Patrick

    I remember Obama got a parasite when he was there a few months ago.

    LOL a parasite living on a paraste.

    • Mary

      You are an idiot………………Why do we have such hate in this country???? People like you

      • Ty Webb

        I think you just answered your own question perfectly, Mary. Here, I’ll give you a hint… it’s not people like Patrick. It can be traced back to the “tolerant” ones who in reality can only tolerate their own viewpoints.

      • Doc

        So Mary, you just called someone an idiot and then asked why we have so much hate in this country. Go figure

  • Shirley

    What is the best way to clean your fruit and vegetables??? Is there other ways, besides washing them off???

    • S Tulip 3

      There is this veggie wash that can be found in limited grocery stores. I think it’s basically watered down lemon juice. I soak my veggies in ice water for at least 15min (lettuce for about 45-60 min) before they hit the fridge. If they are robust veggies, then a veggie brush scrubber works well, too. It’s amazing the amount of yuck comes off of them, especially the lettuce. I also peel most of my produce, even apples, peaches, and other edible skin….I know most of the fiber is in the skin but there are also other numerous ways to get your fiber if you eat well.

    • jackactionhero


      Like what?

      • desert eagle .50

        I don’t know. What do you recommend? Please be specific.

    • Mr Helpful

      Top shelf in the dishwasher. Short cycle. No soap, just fill half way with non-scented bleach. Low heat dry. Give it a try.

    • Petye

      Use a 10% solution of 2% hydrogen peroxide and water. Wash carefully and keep an eye out for tiny baby slugs. The disease is in their gut and pesticides don’t get rid of them because they crawl into the leafy veges long after any pesticides would be applied to these kinds of veges. BTW the risk of serious health risks are far greater eating green leafy veges that have been recently sprayed with poison.

    • hps

      NO.. soap and water is the BEST way.. and on store bought veggies sometimes that is not enough since they coat things like apples..cukes.. etc with some kind of oil (cukes) and something like a varnish (apples).. lately I noticed a oily residue on store bought tomatoes .. bad enough they spray them with chemicals so they ripen in route to the supermaket..SCARED to eat all those HEALTHY veggies and fruits yet???

  • hps

    Well as someone who has a garden every year.. GLAD I don’t do ORGANIC..

  • David Wells

    I am waiting for the national media to go on a “scare” alert warning us against the dangers of organic food, and calling for mandatory use of pesticides and chemicals to ensure the safety of our food supply!!!

  • Tim Desland

    It was either the fruit, or the paralysis-inducing weed he was smoking over there.

  • Racino !!!

    no tax money for Wilf !!!!

  • BytraWatches

    Hey Obummer, on your next Hawiian vacation, can you please increase your produce intake. Just feel free to walk into the fields and pick whatever you want and eat right up!!!

  • Pete

    For all the uneducated on this forum that think pesticides would prevent this disease, I’ll let you in on something. I live in Hawaii and I can only say you get rat-lung disease from eating lettuce, cabbage or other leafy vegetables that have not been washed carefully. These kinds of veges are never treated with pesticides unless the farmers are just plain ignorant and want to poison themselves quickly. The disease is spread to humans by tiny baby slugs and can be prevented by careful washing and using small amounts of hydrogen peroxide as a wash. The disease could care less if you are a hippie or a pampered rich jerk. The ignorant are is it’s best customers.

  • schmed

    There’s a reason we began to use pesticides, events like this included.

  • Martin Short

    I’m not that STRONG a swimmer.

  • Dave

    This IDIOT bought into the No GMO, ORGANIC ONLY stupidity of the trust fund hippies that pollute Hawaii with their presence.

    And no it’s no different for ANYONE who lives or visits the Islands, ANYONE, you don’t have to be on a farm to be exposed to nasty stuff. E-coli, leptospirosis and flesh eating bacteria ABOUND here. NOT highly publicized, YA THINK?!

    “If in doubt, DON’T go out!”

  • udo

    Awww, how cute. Another ‘organic farmer’ dreamer that wants to produce expensive food that won’t feed the worlds growing population that can’t afford organic food in the first place.

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