Sushi fans, you'd better hope you've got a strong stomach before reading on. The viral tale of a man from California who pulled a disgustingly large tapeworm out of his body, has brought up a lot of concerns about eating raw fish.
First, a recap. The man's story came to light in this month’s episode of medical podcast This Won’t Hurt A Bit on parasites, thanks to A&E doctor Kenny Bahn. We won't go into too much graphic detail because it's pretty horrific, but we will tell you that the patient arrived at the hospital carrying a plastic bag containing a 1.7-metre (5ft 6in) tapeworm, which he originally thought might have been "a piece of intestine hanging out" of him – before it started moving.
Before the horrifying incident, which will no doubt remain in his memory forever, the man had been experiencing abdominal pain – and more graphic symptoms, of which we'll spare you the details.
Bahn told the the podcast: "He told me he was freaked out, but I guess when you think you’re dying because your entrails are shooting out your bottom and you find out it’s not you, but something else, that’s probably a good thing.”
The tapeworm had most likely come from the man's daily salmon sashimi habit, Bahn added – so how worried should others be? Sushi may be delicious and popular, but is it worth the risk of having your insides invaded by a parasite that's potentially longer than you are tall? (Tapeworms can reach up to 25 metres in length and live for up to 20 years.)
Luckily the risk is low, particularly in the UK where, thanks to EU food hygiene laws, the vast majority of fish eaten raw or lightly cooked must first be frozen, as the Guardian reported. Freezing fully and cooking properly are both surefire ways of killing the parasites which transmit tapeworms.
What's more, tapeworms are far more likely to be transmitted via faecal contamination than by eating infected fish or meat. “It’s a huge problem in places such as Central America, where there is a large pork industry and amount of pig farming," Peter Olson, a tapeworm expert and researcher at the Natural History Museum, told the Guardian. "The worse the sanitation conditions, the more likely there is to be transmission."
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