Campus journalism school lecturer contracts brain-invading parasite on vacation in HI

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Ben Manilla, a lecturer and director of audio at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and his wife Eliza Lape contracted rat lungworm disease, a brain-invading parasite, in January while vacationing in Hawaii, as first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

The newlywed couple married during their stay in Maui and learned they had been infected with the disease when a specialist at UCSF diagnosed them a week and a half after they returned to their hometown of San Francisco, according to the SF Chronicle. Lape has since recovered and plans to return to work, but Manilla is undergoing physical therapy and has yet to return to campus, the SF Chronicle stated.

Rat lungworm disease — or Angiostrongylus cantonensis — is principally carried by rats and can affect the central nervous system and have deadly effects on humans, according to the Hawaii Department of Health website. The parasite can be contracted through the consumption of raw shrimp or snails or food contaminated by rodent fecal matter, said campus professor of epidemiology Lee Riley in an email. Symptoms include severe headaches, vomiting and nausea, and the disease can also cause meningitis and long-term neurological dysfunction.

Forty-two cases of rat lungworm disease have been reported in Hawaii from 2007 to 2015, the Hawaii Department of Health website states. Although the parasite is typically found in subtropical climates, several cases have been documented in the contiguous United States.

Many of Manilla’s colleagues at the J-School emphasized Manilla’s important role in the school and expressed hope that he will return to campus soon.

Edward Wasserman, professor and dean of the J-School, said Manilla is an extremely valued faculty member. According to Wasserman, Manilla has been directing his efforts toward fully modernizing the J-School’s audio journalism program.

Alan Mutter, a fellow lecturer of Manilla’s at the J-School, said in an email that Manilla is an expert on audio journalism as well as a passionate and innovative instructor who “has earned the devotion of his students.” Mutter added that Manilla and his students have “led … the way” in mastering podcasting, an increasingly popular media format.

Other colleagues of Manilla expressed a similar sentiment, including J-School campus professor emeritus Cynthia Gorney, who recalled Manilla bringing his dog to class. Gorney said Manilla incorporated interesting exercises into his lectures in order to help students understand the power of sound.

“He projects this great vitality in the classroom. That’s only one part of why students love working with him,” Gorney said.

According to various J-School faculty members, Manilla plays a crucial role in the school’s radio program.

“We keep asking him to come back. He’s (an) excellent teacher,” said campus professor Lydia L. Chavez. “We’re anxious to have him back and hope he recovers quickly.”

Contact Christine Lee at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @christinejlee17.