Raw dishes raise risk of parasite exposure, doctor warns

Tian Shengjie
After months of misdiagnosis and ineffective treatment, one woman's persistent cough and fever were pinned on parasites found in raw seafood.
Tian Shengjie

Liquor-saturated crab and shrimp are traditional dishes in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. However, these raw food items put consumers at risk for debilitating parasites.

A 46-year-old woman surnamed Zhang from Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, had a fever and cough for four months recently. She went to several hospitals and was diagnosed with hydrothorax and pneumonia. Although she took medicine according to her doctors' orders, she didn’t recover.

After spending thousands of yuan on advanced antibiotic treatment but experiencing no relief, she went to Shanghai’s Zhongshan Hospital to seek another diagnosis.

Dr Hu Bijie, director of infectious diseases at the hospital, checked her medical report and chest scans and concluded that Zhang did not have pneumonia. Zhang had lesions in her lungs which were migrating, a symptom not found in normal pneumonia, Hu explained.

After learning that Zhang is a fan of liquor-saturated crab and shrimp, and also helps prepare such dishes in her job as a kitchen aid at a Ningbo restaurant, Hu suspected that her condition was caused by parasites in her lungs.

“Maybe this is why she did not recover with normal antimicrobial therapy,” Dr Hu said. Later tests on Zhang came back positive for lung fluke, an aquatic parasite found in freshwater snails and crabs.

This parasite will travel through the body and cause inflammation, bleeding and perforation of the organs, especially the lungs. If it enters the brain, it can cause headaches, blindness and even paralysis.

After three days of targeted treatment, Zhang's fever and cough subsided. Within two months, she was fully recovered.

Hu emphasized that potable consumer alcohol cannot kill parasites. Once someone eats uncooked food containing parasites, they will get sick, he cautioned.

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