If you encyst …
It’s been a while since a quote made me laugh out loud, but last week’s report of a sushi-loving Californian’s encounter with a tapeworm supplied a couple.
According to the Graun, a resident of Fresno managed to ‘pass’ a tapeworm around five feet six inches in length. Afterwards, he wrapped it around a loo roll and took it to his doctor and asked to be treated for ‘worms’.
The patient had initially been concerned that an extrusion from his derriere was a part of his intestines prolapsing. So why he thought it a good idea to give it a tug is anyone’s guess, but tug it he did and the rest of the tapeworm followed.
The article outlined the life cycle of the tapeworm in the region, noting that bears feeding off salmon can be an alternate host that re-transmit the parasite’s eggs when defecating in rivers. Larvae then hatch and infect small crustaceans that are eaten by salmon that are then caught and processed into sushi which is eaten by wannabe human hosts.
It was the doctor’s comment that made me laugh:
“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.”
As did a number of the BTL comments, notably this one:
“‘A typical life cycle might include a bear that feeds on salmon, then defecates back into the river’. That is what happens when bears don’t stick to the rules: they are meant to shit in the woods, not in the river“.
Postscript: One of the most interesting courses of my undergraduate years was on parasitology, which is why the stated size of the tapeworm didn’t surprise me. They can be much longer than the one above.
The human broad fish tapeworm (Diphyllobothriun latum) can grow up to 10 metres in length comprising a head and thousands of segments (proglottids). Proglottids regularly detach from the tail end and are ‘passed’ by the host before hatching into larvae.
As one of the symptoms of a tapeworm infection can be weight loss, it is no surprise that some people have been tempted to infect themselves for that very purpose (ingesting cysts from the beef tapeworm).
Indeed, tapeworms-as-diet-aid have been marketed for that very reason since the early 20th century – the soprano Maria Callas is reputed to have lost weight dramatically due to the tapeworm diet although many think it unlikely.
But be very careful, people! If the wrong species is ingested, larvae can migrate through the body before encysting which can have all sorts of serious effects (cysticercosis) including death. So don’t eat raw pork!