You might want to put down whatever you’re eating before you read this unless five-and-a-half foot long tapeworms are what you’re into.
In an interview published earlier this month by the medical podcast This Won’t Hurt a Bit that’s picking up steam over the interwebs this week, Dr. Kenny Banh tells the story of an unfortunate patient whose love of raw salmon put him into a bit of a bind. Banh, an associate professor of clinical emergency medicine at UCSF’s Fresno Medical Education Program, was approached by the male patient in August after he pulled the tapeworm out of his rectum at home and brought it to the hospital wrapped around an empty toilet paper roll.
The man also came to Banh with his own hypothesis as to how he ended up with a tapeworm over five feet long in his butt.
“He says, ‘The one thing I like, that I love, I love sushi, specifically salmon sashimi, and I eat it every day,” Banh recounted. The patient also mentioned upon leaving the hospital that this love had now wilted and died, leaving him to a future without fresh salmon goodness.
While there wasn’t an exact diagnosis, Banh says it’s reasonable to think the infection, in which the tapeworm gestated inside the man for at least six months, was caused by consumption of raw fish. A study published January 10 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that wild salmon caught in Alaska had been infected by Diphyllobothrium nihokaiense — commonly known as the Japanese broad tapeworm. Scientists previously thought this parasite only infected fish in Asia. Now they fear it’s possible that salmon caught along North America’s Pacific coast could have it.
In that study, tapeworm was found to have infected chum salmon, masu salmon, pink salmon, and sockeye salmon. According to CNN many found that discovery deeply concerning because so much salmon is exported unfrozen. “Infections caused by the Japanese tapeworm may occur anywhere, from China to Europe, from New Zealand to Ohio,” the report suggested.
According to the CDC these Japanese broad tapeworms, and related species like the Diphyllobathrium latum, are the largest tapeworms that can infect people, can even grow up to 30 feet long. If someone is infected with one of these suckers they’ll have symptoms that include abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss.
Some might find that latter symptom to be advantageous. Unfortunately for our salmon-obsessed friend, he found himself exempt from such small consolation.
“Everybody asks me that,” Banh said, recounting the question of weight loss. “And the answer is absolutely not. He’s like all of the negatives of the worm infestation and none of the positives.”
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