It’s safe to say that we’re usually not too worried about the side effects of food when we eat it. Sure, knowing how many grams of fat are lurking in peanut butter might be a cause for a concern, but in today’s day and age, most of the stuff on your plate won’t cause you too much harm… right? Wrong!
In 2014, a Chinese man learned this lesson the hard way. He’d been indulging in his favorite dish when he started suffering from some peculiar adverse effects. He rushed to the doctor where X-rays revealed a horror that was enough to cause just about anyone to swear off food forever…
In 2014, word spread about a Chinese man who’d been suffering from awful stomachaches and itchy skin. The man, who remained anonymous, naturally brought his concerns to a doctor.
Once the man spoke with doctors, they instantly admitted him to an emergency room at the Guangzhou No. 8 People’s Hospital in Guangdong Province. There, doctors began questioning him about his strange symptoms…
But it was when the man told them about his diet that everyone realized just what kind of issue they were dealing with. With their patient still in pain, doctors conducted a round of X-rays. The results went on to horrify people following the story all across the globe…
Completed X-rays showed the man’s internal structures were all in order. But all the little white dashes and specks were cause for concern; in fact, they confirmed what the doctors had been fearing…
One doctor, Dr. Yin, confirmed everyone’s worst nightmare: those dense white spots that were captured in the X-rays were actually worms! How in the world could this man have so many worms in his body? And what did he eat to cause such a thing?
The man’s favorite food, he told the doctors, was sushi, or sashimi—raw fish. Studies have shown that consuming raw and undercooked fish could lead to any number of parasitic infections. But could that really result in such a horrible worm infestation like this?
According to Dr. Yin, consuming parasite-infested food lets “eggs make their way into the digestive system, where they are absorbed as nutrients. As the eggs hatch, the larvae are spread throughout the body via the bloodstream.” Yuck!
News of this man’s parasitic body and images of his X-rays spread to Europe and then to America, where sushi-lovers everywhere gagged in unison. Although, certain elements of the story didn’t line up in the original reporting…
For starters, the first article that broke the story of the man and his worm-filled X-rays claimed that he had contracted cysticercosis. That gave plenty of readers pause—and for good reason.
Cysticercosis infections are derived from a parasite found only in raw pork. In other words, the man could’ve eaten sashimi all day long and he still never would’ve developed an infection like the one seen in his X-rays. So, what really happened?
Annick Vanderschelden / Flickr
Online fact-checkers at Snopes.com (pictured) did a little digging to answer that question. In their research, they found the story of the Chinese man with a parasitic infection bore a lot of similarities to another story from 2014…
Published by Ming-Pin Lin, Yen-Li Chen, and Wen-Sheng Tzeng in the British Medical Journal, this case report featured a 74-year-old man who ended up in the hospital with “a sudden onset of gait disturbance, memory loss and disturbance of consciousness.”
Just as the Chinese man had confessed his love for sushi and sashimi to doctors, the man in this report had a unique appetite, too: he liked eating raw beef and pork. So, doctors conducted X-rays. Take a guess at what they found…
Yoshiaki Miura / The Japan Times
The 74-year-old man’s X-rays revealed patterns that looked a lot like those inside the alleged sashimi-eating Chinese man. Additionally, according to this particular report, the markings weren’t worms—though the truth wasn’t any better.
British Medical Journal
“The brain CT scan, brain MRI, abdominal CT scan and plain X-rays had a characteristic ‘starry sky’ appearance, revealing calcified foci in muscle,” the report’s authors wrote. So, what were calcified foci?
British Medical Journal
In other words, X-rays and CT scans picked up calcified cysts, the side effects and the end result of a parasitic infection. In the cases of both these poor men, there was no doubt about it: they had a parasite problem.
bubamarkus / YouTube
The team at Snopes suggested the original story—that the man contracted the parasites from too much sashimi—might have been an error in translation. Possibly, it was raw pork the man had eaten, not fish. Still, that shouldn’t give anyone permission to eat so much raw fish…
BBC reported on another British Medical Journal article in 2017, this one concerning a 32-year-old man from Lisbon, Portugal. Like the Chinese man and the 74-year-old, he ended up in a medical facility with similar stomach pains.
There, it didn’t take long for doctors to diagnose this man with anisakiasis—a parasitic infection caused by the consumption of raw fish. Sure enough, doctors “found the larvae of a worm-like parasite firmly attached to an area of swollen … gut lining,” BBC wrote.
So far, most cases of anisakiasis were reported in Japan, where sushi and sashimi consumption were par for the course. “However, it has been increasingly recognized in Western countries,” pointed out the reports’ authors.
If these case reports are any indication, make sure any raw meat you’re consuming has been properly treated—you don’t want to end up with a parasitic infection and “starry sky” X-rays!