After two Chinese patients arrived at the emergency room, doctors discovered they were infested with a dangerous parasite. But they were equally surprised to trace the parasite to live centipedes.
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.
Lingli Lu is a researcher at the Zhujiang Hospital – in the Department of Neurology, and one of the lead scientists of the study. She explains that they’ve never heard of people eating raw centipedes and that the patients “believed that raw centipedes would be good for their health,” adding that:
“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.
According to the DNA analysis of the remains of the centipedes, the doctors discovered what parasite the patients were infected with.
Traditional Chinese medicine uses centipedes, but only in dried or powder form – and they don’t carry the parasite. But this parasite was a rat lungworm, called Angiostrongylus cantonensis, which prefers to live in the arteries of the rat’s lungs, but it can also be found in mollusks or snails. This is the first time the parasite was found in centipedes.
When humans are infected with this parasite, it causes mild infections that clear up without the need of treatment. But there are cases in which the worm can get to the brain and spinal cord and lead to meningitis. In extreme cases, it leads to paralysis and death.
The Patients Recovered After Three Weeks of Treatment
The woman and her son were first believed to have a bacterial or viral infection, but tests came out negative. Then, medics found cerebrospinal fluid in their brains and an increase in eosinophils – which is the white blood cell that fights against parasites.
Doctors found out that the patients ate raw centipedes and treated them with albendazole. After three weeks of treatment, the patients recovered.
But the research was not over. Lu and her team went to the wet market in Guangdong and bought 20 live centipedes to see if they all have parasites. Seven of them were infected with an average of 56 third-stage larvae. The scientists then infected all the centipedes in the lab with the parasite, and they all died soon after. The team concluded that the centipedes are a temporary host for the worms.
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.