A California man who regularly ate salmon sashimi has sworn to lay off the stuff after pulling a tapeworm out of his body that was nearly as long as he was tall, a doctor says.
Emergency room doctor Kenny Banh described the situation, which reportedly happened about two months ago, in this month’s episode of medical podcast “This Won’t Hurt A Bit.” The episode ― which you can listen to in full here — aired Jan. 8, but the horrifying tale started appearing in numerous news outlets this week.
Banh said he was working in an emergency room in Fresno when a young man came in, saying he had bloody diarrhea and wanted to be treated for worms. Banh was initially somewhat skeptical that the man actually had worms, but his curiosity was piqued when he saw a small plastic bag next to the patient.
When he asked the patient about it, he was told, “It’s the worm,” Banh recalled on the podcast.
“I open it up and I take out a toilet paper roll … and wrapped around it is of course this giant, long, what looks like a flat tapeworm,” said Banh.
The patient reported that he had abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea before seeing part of the worm hanging out of his body while on the toilet, Banh said. He started pulling on the long, stringy item until it was all the way out.
“And what does it do? It starts moving,” said Banh.
The patient was actually relieved that it was a tapeworm ― a parasite that can grow in the digestive tract ― and not his organs spilling out of his body. But he was understandably curious about where the worm came from.
Banh said that when he questioned the man about possible risk factors — like whether he had traveled to any developing countries, whether he had been drinking well water — only one detail stood out as a likely explanation. The man said he absolutely loved sushi and consumed raw salmon “almost every day,” Banh recalled.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common tapeworm to infect humans is Diphyllobothrium latum. People become infected after eating certain types of raw or undercooked fish, including salmon. And The Washington Post notes that salmon from the Pacific coasts of Asia and North America can be infected with a type of tapeworm known as Diphyllobothrium nihonkaiense.
Properly cooking the fish — or, in the case of sushi, flash-freezing it at a low enough temperature — kills these worms. The CDC notes that most cases are asymptomatic, though infection can cause symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting and even vitamin B12 deficiency and anemia.
Banh told ABC30 that the worm had most likely been growing inside the man’s body for about six months. And the man had eaten sushi at so many different places, it would be impossible to figure out which location was responsible.
The good news is, getting rid of an infection is easy and only takes one dose of a deworming medication. Even so, Banh told Post that the patient “swore off sushi” — at least for now.