Can Sushi Give You Tapeworms? There Was A Small Outbreak Recently, But Don't Freak Out
If you're a sushi fan, you might want to plan a personal day to recover from this information, which answers a question you never even wanted to ask: Can sushi give you tapeworms? The unfortunate answer here is yes, it technically can, though it's a bit more complicated than that. I know, please don't hate me.
First of all, ugh. Can the world not catch a break? 2017 was catastrophic enough on its own, without everyone having to learn that their favorite cuisine is a potential vessel for five-foot-long worms to grow inside your body without you even knowing that it's happening.
The news about a sushi tapeworm epidemic — OK, it's not really an epidemic (not yet, at least), but in my opinion, just one case is enough to freak me out — first started circulating in January 2017, when scientists revealed a pattern of Japanese tapeworms found in Alaskan salmon, which is commonly purchased for the purpose of creating some of our favorite sushi rolls.
But here's the scary part: The worst sushi tapeworm story you'll ever hear actually happened in August 2017 — aka not that long ago. The good news is that the issue seems confined to salmon, so you can still enjoy your spicy tuna roll without the fear of a tiny monster growing into a larger monster inside your intestinal tract. The bad news, though, is that what happened to one man back in August might make you queasy. The story was first told on an episode of the medical podcast "This Won't Hurt A Bit."
According to that podcast episode, a California emergency room admitted a patient who arrived with a tapeworm in his hands that was over five feet long. He'd pulled it out himself while going to the bathroom.
Yeah, that's right. A man, whose identity is not known, was experiencing bloody diarrhea (one of the only symptoms of a tapeworm, in addition to cramping) when he somehow managed to notice the tapeworm in his stool and began to pull. In case that's not bad enough for you, here's the absolute worst part of this whole story: According to The Cut, this poor man thought that the worm was his intestines, and that he was freaking dying. If this story doesn't get turned into a Grey's Anatomy episode, I've lost all faith in the world.
The doctor who treated this patient, Dr. Kenny Banh, spoke with The Cut about his experience. He explained that the man arrived at the emergency room with the tapeworm wrapped around toilet paper, and that the patient reported eating sushi every single day (it's not clear how long exactly the man was doing that), which "made it very likely that the tapeworm came from the salmon he ate in sushi."
It's safe to say I'm never ordering a salmon roll ever again — or, you know, at least for a few weeks.
Thankfully, the patient ended up being totally fine, although I'd assume he's probably majorly scarred from the whole experience. I'm also willing to bet he changed that every-day-is-sushi-day habit, too.
If there's a moral to this story, it's that everything is better in moderation. Having sushi from time to time doesn't appear to bear any serious health hazards, but having it every day can potentially increase the tiny health risks into something more dangerous, just by the sheer frequency with which you're eating it.
Plus, it's pretty difficult to know if you even have a tapeworm, since they tend to be asymptomatic, meaning that your body shows no signs whatsoever of the tapeworm being inside you. But before you totally freak out about the fact that you might be ingesting worms without knowing it every time you grab a quick salmon roll, here's some comforting information:
As long as your food has been prepared properly, tapeworms shouldn't be a concern in your sushi.
Banh told The Cut,
If fish is properly handled, even uncooked fish, it’s supposed to be frozen down long enough to kill off parasites.
In other words, your best bet is to skip the sushi container at that sketchy store-cart by your office, and wait for a more trustworthy roll at a restaurant with good safety ratings.
Or you can just opt for the spicy tuna or shrimp tempura rolls instead. It's not like we're just going to stop eating sushi altogether.