Flourishing demand for sushi, ceviche and poke makes raw fish an emerging staple in the coastal American diet. But seafood lovers should be extra cautious after an icky report released by the Centers for Disease Control revealed that wild salmon caught in Alaska could be infected with tapeworms — Diphyllobothrium nihonkaiense, or Japanese broad tapeworms, to be exact.
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The study, released earlier this week, comes after years of the Japanese broad tapeworm wreaking havoc in northeastern Asia and eastern Russia. Apparently, the possibility of its occurrence in the Pacific coast of North America was ignored for decades until 2008, when infections were confirmed in humans and nonhuman animals (wolves and bears) in the U.S.
Scientists conducted a study in 2013 wherein they examined 64 wild Alaskan salmon and identified four species that harbor Japanese tapeworms: chum salmon, masu salmon, pink salmon and sockeye salmon. These species aren’t frozen for transport, meaning that tapeworms could survive the trip to restaurants around the world, “from China to Europe, from New Zealand to Ohio,” CNN reports.
Tapeworms “attach themselves to a host’s intestinal walls and feed off the host’s food,” Live Science reports. Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine who was not a part of the study, tells CNN that experts believe that infections caused by Japanese broad tapeworms will probably be no different than those brought about by other species.
Schaffner also says that most people don’t have any symptoms. Some people experience abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, vomiting and weight loss, according to the CDC.
If you’re already totally grossed out, it gets worse. Finding out that you have an infection is a gruesome process. “The reason you know you have tapeworms is you look in your stool and find bits of tapeworm floating in the water — and that usually panics you enormously,” Schaffner says.
There is a silver lining to all this, however, as treatments are safe and very effective.
Sorry, sushi lovers, but if this information was enough to scare you away from raw fish for a minute, you can still have adequately frozen or cooked salmon. Cook fish for about five minutes to reach a safe internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Check the CDC’s website for how to freeze your fish to make sure that you don’t end up hosting a parasite like Sigourney Weaver in “Alien 3.”
What Do YOU Think?
Will you stop eating raw salmon after reading this? Have you ever had a tapeworm? What’s your favorite way to prepare salmon? Let us know in the comments section!