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That Sushi May Contain a Tract-Invading Parasitic Tapeworm

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In health updates that absolutely no one wants to hear, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are warning that a tapeworm that was previously believed to only exist in fish from Asia has been found in Alaskan Salmon. Hold on to your guts.

According to the CDC’s report, Diphyllobothrium nihonkaiense, or the Japanese broad tapeworm... reemerging because of global importation and increased popularity of eating raw fish. We detected Diphyllobothrium nihonkaiense plerocercoids in the musculature of wild pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) from Alaska, USA. Therefore, salmon from the American and Asian Pacific coasts and elsewhere pose potential dangers for persons who eat these fish raw.


Wow, “the American and Asian Pacific coasts and elsewhere” is pretty frickin’ broad.

What kind of dangers are we talking about here? Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells CNN that “very little is actually known about this variant of tapeworms.” But, because it’s closely related to the Diphyllobothrium latum, any illness or symptoms would probably be similar.


In almost all cases, symptoms will be minor or completely unnoticeable. Abdominal discomfort, nausea, loose stools, and mild weight loss are the most common signs that your body has this tape worm that can grow up to 30 feet long.

In more serious but rare cases, Schaffner says, “massive infections may result in intestinal obstruction” that “can have a substantial emotional impact on patients and their families, because segments are evacuated over a long period of time.” Oh, and a big, adult tapeworm can eat up a lot of the vitamin B12 which could lead to neurological problems.

The good news is that if the tapeworm is identified it can be treated fairly easily with specialized medication. Unfortunately, the best way to know you need treatment is to suffer the trauma of finding bits of tapeworm in your stool and having a lab check it out.

Dr. Patrick Okolo, chief of gastroenterology at Lenox Hill Hospital, tells the Chicago Tribune that, “any tapeworm risk from raw salmon would ‘clearly be small.’”


If you want to be really careful, freezing the fish for a few days should kill any parasites but any sushi lover will tell you, that’s just gross.