Scared of sushi? The Anisakis worm is a parasite that can cause nasty infections in humans who enjoy eating raw fish. It is 2 cm long and is sometimes coughed up after ingesting it in raw or undercooked fish.
Species Name: Anisakis simplex
Type of Microbe: Parasitic nematode (roundworm)
How It Spreads
Anisakis simplex has a complex life cycle in which humans are an incidental host. Adult worms are found in the stomach of marine mammals, and their eggs are passed in the feces. After the larvae are hatched, they are ingested by shellfish. Infected shellfish get eaten by fish and squid, where the larvae make their way into the muscle tissues. Ingestion of infected fish or squid by other fish allows spread of the infection. Ingestion by marine mammals is necessary for the larvae to develop into adult worms. However, accidental human consumption of raw or undercooked marine fish that harbor the infected larvae can result in an allergic reaction, sometimes causing the individual to cough up the worms if swallowed. Penetration of the worms into the intestinal tissue causes anisakiasis.
You’re at risk if you eat raw or undercooked seafood. The parasite is found frequently in cod, haddock, fluke, Pacific salmon, herring, flounder, and monkfish.
The US reports fewer than 10 diagnosed cases each year. In Japan, where raw fish is an integral part of the Japanese diet, more than 1000 cases have been reported each year.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Penetration of the worm into intestinal tissues causes a local inflammatory immune response that results in the symptoms of anisakiasis. Common symptoms include:
- Violent abdominal pain
After penetrating the intestine, the worm attracts white blood cells called eosinophils and macrophages and forms a mass of immune tissues called a granuloma.