If You're Tempted to Eat Raw Centipedes, Don't

Family hospitalised with deadly parasite after eating raw centipedes

Family hospitalised with deadly parasite after eating raw centipedes

After two Chinese patients arrived at the emergency room, doctors discovered they were infested with a unsafe parasite.

According to the researchers, mild infections with the parasite may clear up on their own. But the parasite can penetrate the brain and spinal cord, which can lead to meningitis-an infection of the fluid around the brain-and, in rare instances, paralysis and death. The roundworm is typically found in snails and other mollusks.

In China, African giant land snails and apple snails are the main hosts of the parasite, the study said. The parasite also has been detected in Africa, the Caribbean, Hawaii, and, more recently, in Louisiana and South Florida.

Centipedes are widely used in traditional Chinese medicine, usually in dried or powder form, which does not transmit rat lungworm, the case report authors explained.

The doctors conducted a study on this one of a kind case and published their findings in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene on 30 July.

"We don't really hear of people eating raw centipedes, but apparently these two patients believed that raw centipedes would be good for their health", said Lingli Lu, one of the lead scientists of the study and a researcher in the Department of Neurology in Zhujiang Hospital. "Instead it made them sick".

After weeks of headaches and drowsiness, a 78-year-old woman and her son (46) went to the hospital, where they were later diagnosed with a parasite which was traced back to the raw centipedes the two snacked on.

An exam and test pointed to meningitis.

When the doctors tested the patients' cerebrospinal fluid in their brains, they found a rise in eosinophils, a variety of white blood cell that are an antibody to the Angiostrongylus cantonensis parasite.

"Further questions about the patient's history showed that she had eaten centipedes without cooking them on several occasions", the report authors noted.

The woman and her son were first believed to have a bacterial or viral infection, but tests came out negative.

After learning the patients had eaten raw centipedes, doctors immediately treated them with a three-week course of anti-parasitic drug albendazole, and they eventually recovered.

"This study shows why it's important to have physician scientists who can both treat patients and identify and investigate unusual cases that may have broader implications for public health", said ASTMH president Regina Rabinovich, MD.

To learn more about the potential of centipedes to serve as hosts for A. cantonensis, the researchers purchased 20 centipedes from the agricultural market where the patients had acquired their centipedes. Seven of them were infected with an average of 56 third-stage larvae. "The researchers not only found the source of infection in the laboratory, they did the work to show the wild centipedes that were in supply at the farmers' market could have been a viable source of transmission".

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