gross things

What’s the Deal With Sushi and Tapeworms?

Salmon sushi. Photo: Getty Images

The story of our worst sushi nightmare recently went viral: Last week, during an episode of the medical podcast “This Won’t Hurt A Bit,” California emergency-room doctor Kenny Banh told the horrifying tale of a patient who pulled a 5-foot 6-inch tapeworm out of his body last August. And it turns out the man apparently ingested the tapeworm … from sushi. Ahhhhhhhhhh!

Since hearing that tale, we’ve wanted nothing more than to take a shower on our insides, and have spent hours wondering whether we may have also unknowingly ingested a parasite from our own excessive sushi-eating habits. Luckily, Banh was willing to explain to the Cut everything we needed to know.

So, what happened?
Last August, a man showed up in Banh’s emergency room … carrying a giant tapeworm wrapped around a toilet roll. “He pulled it out of him when having a bout of bloody diarrhea,” Bahn told the Cut, adding that the man was sitting on the toilet at the time and had thought the worm was actually his intestines (and that he was dying).

Uh, but how did he even get that worm?
Earlier in the year, a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that there was an outbreak of Japanese tapeworms in wild salmon caught along the Pacific coast of North America. The patient, it turned out, ate sushi every day — specifically (raw) salmon sashimi. “That’s his only risk factor, and he did it to an extreme level, which made it very likely that the tapeworm came from the salmon he ate in sushi,” Banh said.

We know.

What does this mean for our own sushi habit?
Well, as Banh explained, the tapeworm outbreak is only in salmon (not other fish, at least that we know of) from the Pacific coast, so if you’re eating salmon sushi on the regular on the other side of the country, you should be fine. And besides, as long as your food is prepared properly, tapeworms shouldn’t even really be a problem if you’re eating Pacific-caught salmon. “If fish is properly handled, even uncooked fish, it’s supposed to be frozen down long enough to kill off parasites,” Banh said. So, he advised that we all pay attention to food safety ratings of the restaurants we frequent.

Ah, okay. But how can someone tell if they have a tapeworm in the first place?
Banh told the Cut that tapeworms, unfortunately, are generally asymptomatic — so if you get one, you probably won’t really know. But if you do have symptoms, they generally involve abdominal cramping and bloody diarrhea. And by the way, tapeworms don’t just come from fish — you can also get them from undercooked pork and poorly washed vegetables, he noted.

So, what’s the verdict — can we still eat sushi?
According to Banh, yes (thank God). “Do I still eat sushi? Sure,” the doctor said. “I’m more of a tuna guy instead of salmon, so I guess it’s not really a problem for me.” Just keep an eye out for food safety and you should be fine, he added.

What’s the Deal With Sushi and Tapeworms?