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“ACCIDENTAL HOST—The Story of Rat Lungworm Disease”

By Susan Kujawa
Posted: 05/01/2023

Claire and Patrick Dunavan are founding members of Pasadena Village. Patrick, a long-time documentary filmmaker, launched his career in the mailroom of CBS Television City in Los Angeles, then worked as a film editor and producer, earning his first of 8 Emmys by age 30. After moving to Pasadena in 2008, he also created, directed, and produced our 2012 video that introduced Pasadena Village to the broader community. 


Dr. Claire Panosian Dunavan is a UCLA specialist in infectious diseases and past-president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene who spent several years as a writer, reporter and co-anchor for Lifetime Television. Her print journalism has also appeared in major newspapers and magazines. Claire first met patients with rat lungworm meningitis while working in southern Taiwan in the 1980s. Four years later, she met Patrick after joining his staff for a nationally-broadcast medical special.


Now for some background on an exotic disease flying under the radar. When Claire first encountered rat lungworm, it was almost a curiosity…a strange, foodborne, brain-invading, blight found solely in Asia and certain Pacific islands. Forty years later, rat lungworm thrives in tropical areas of six continents (North America, South America, Asia, Oceania and Africa—and most recently coastal Spain), while, in recent years, some people in Hawaii have suffered dramatic, even-life-threatening infections. Tourists also contract rat lungworm, and there are now homegrown cases in the southeastern United States. Paradoxically, explains Claire, many people are exposed to the infection when trying to “eat healthy” but inadvertently ingesting unwashed produce, especially leafy greens, contaminated by invisible larvae. You can watch the special on PBS here.


Claire and Patrick produced their documentary for several reasons:  a profound lack of awareness on the part of patients and doctors--major difficulties around diagnosis and treatment—and the disease’s wide range of “accidental hosts,” including children and animals.  Adds Claire, “It's a film with many human stories as well as ecological layers.” Check out the "Accidental Host" website here.


For supporters of PBS who have access to PBS Passport, the 53-minute documentary can be accessed by searching for “Accidental Host” on your PBS Passport app. The film provides an eye opening, accessible, explanation of a little-known but emerging infectious disease now spreading around the globe. 

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