Eosinophilic meningitis beyond the Pacific Basin: the global dispersal of a peridomestic zoonosis caused by Angiostrongylus cantonensis, the nematode lungworm of rats

Soc Sci Med. 1992 Jan;34(2):199-212. doi: 10.1016/0277-9536(92)90097-a.


The principal etiologic agent of human eosinophilic meningitis, Angiostrongylus cantonensis, was first detected in rats in Canton, China in 1933. The first human case was detected on Taiwan in 1944. Epidemic outbreaks were noted on Ponape (E. Caroline Is.) from 1944 to 1948. The disease may present as transient meningitis or a more severe disease involving the brain, spinal cord and nerve roots, with a characteristic eosinophilia of the peripheral blood and CSF. Since 1961 it has been known that human infections are usually acquired by purposeful or accidental ingestion of infective larvae in terrestrial mollusks, planaria and fresh-water crustacea. There is no effective specific treatment. The African land snail, Achatina fulica played an important role in the panpacific dispersal of the organism: it will be important in Africa in the future as well. Rats were, and will continue to be the principal agents of expansion of the parasite beyond the Indopacific area. During and just after WWII the parasite was introduced, and/or spread passively from South and Southeast Asia into the Western Pacific islands and eastward and southward through Micronesia, Melanesia, Australia and into Polynesia, sequestered in shipments of war material and facilitated by post-war commerce. In the 1950s numerous cases were identified for the first time on Sumatra, the Philippines, Taiwan, Saipan, New Caledonia, and as far east as Rarotonga and Tahiti. Then cases were detected in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Java, Sarawak, the New Hebrides, Guam and Hawaii during the 1960s. Subsequently in the Pacific Basin the disease has appeared on Okinawa, other Ryukyu islands, Honshu, Kyushu, New Britain, American Samoa and Western Samoa, Australia, Hong Kong, Bombay, India, Fiji and most recently in mainland China. The parasite in rats now occurs throughout the Indopacific Basin and littoral. Beyond the Indopacific region, the worm has been found in rodents in Madagascar (ca 1963), Cuba (1973), Egypt (1977), Puerto Rico (1984), New Orleans, Louisiana (1985) and Port Harcourt, Nigeria (1989). Human infections have now been detected in Cuba (1973), Réunion Island (1974) and Côte d'Ivoire (1979) and should be anticipated wherever infected rats of mollusks have been introduced. Caged primates became infected in zoos in Hong Kong (1978) and New Orleans and Nassau, Bahamas (1987). The use of mollusks and crustacea as famine foods, favored delicacies and medicines has resulted in numerous outbreaks and isolated infections. Economic and political instability, illicit trade, unsanitary peridomestic conditions and lack of health education promote the local occurrence and insidious global expansion of parasitic eosinophilic meningitis.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

MeSH terms

  • Africa / epidemiology
  • Angiostrongylus*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Domestic
  • Asia / epidemiology
  • Commerce
  • Disease Outbreaks / statistics & numerical data
  • Disease Vectors
  • Eosinophilia / diagnosis
  • Eosinophilia / etiology*
  • Eosinophilia / prevention & control
  • Food Parasitology
  • Humans
  • Meningitis / diagnosis
  • Meningitis / etiology*
  • Meningitis / prevention & control
  • Mollusca
  • Muridae
  • Nematode Infections / complications
  • Nematode Infections / epidemiology*
  • Nematode Infections / transmission
  • Pacific Islands / epidemiology
  • Rats
  • Travel
  • Warfare
  • Zoonoses / parasitology*
  • Zoonoses / transmission