Angiostrongylus cantonensis (rat lungworm), a parasitic nematode, is expanding its distribution. Human infection, known as angiostrongyliasis, may manifest as eosinophilic meningitis, an emerging infectious disease. The range and incidence of this disease are expanding throughout the tropics and subtropics. Recently, the Hawaiian Islands have experienced an increase in reported cases. This study addresses factors affecting the parasite's distribution and projects its potential future distribution, using Hawaii as a model for its global expansion. Specimens of 37 snail species from the Hawaiian Islands were screened for the parasite using PCR. It was present on five of the six largest islands. The data were used to generate habitat suitability models for A. cantonensis, based on temperature and precipitation, to predict its potential further spread within the archipelago. The best current climate model predicted suitable habitat on all islands, with greater suitability in regions with higher precipitation and temperatures. Projections under climate change (to 2100) indicated increased suitability in regions with estimated increased precipitation and temperatures, suitable habitat occurring increasingly at higher elevations. Analogously, climate change could facilitate the spread of A. cantonensis from its current tropical/subtropical range into more temperate regions of the world, as is beginning to be seen in the continental USA.
Read the full article in Parasitology.