Sushi Parasite Has Increased 283x in Nearly 40 Years
The population of a marine parasite that sometimes worms its way into sushi has increased by 283 times in the last nearly 40 years, a University of Washington (UW)-led study has found.
The study, published in Global Change Biology Thursday, reviewed the literature and found a significant rise in the abundance of the parasite Anisakis, or "herring worm." This isn't especially concerning for humans, who experience the worm as a nasty bout of food poisoning that then resolves, but it could have serious consequences for marine mammals, who play host to the parasites for years.
"One of the important implications of this study is that now we know there is this massive, rising health risk to marine mammals," study coauthor and UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences assistant professor Chelsea Wood said in the UW press release. "It's not often considered that parasites might be the reason that some marine mammal populations are failing to bounce back. I hope this study encourages people to look at intestinal parasites as a potential cap on the population growth of endangered and threatened marine mammals."
The researchers looked at a total of 123 papers published between 1967 and 2017 to assess how the abundance of two marine parasites had changed over time: Anisakis and another parasite known as Pseudoterranova, or "cod worm." Anisakis abundance rose 283-fold from 1978 to 2015, while Pseudoterranova abundance did not change. This means that Anisakis has risen from less than one for every 100 hosts caught to more than one in every host caught, ScienceAlert explained.
Ironically, while Anisakis might threaten the health of marine mammals, its rise may have been triggered by their success.
"My gut is that this is about the improvements we've made in marine mammal conservation," Wood told ScienceAlert. "The time frame of our study directly overlaps with when a bunch of really important marine mammal legislation went into effect like the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972 and the international whaling commission moratorium on commercial whaling which came in the 1980s."
The one wrinkle in this theory is which mammals usually play host to the worm. Anisakis hatches in the ocean and first infects small animals like shrimp, the UW explained. They then make their way up the food web as the shrimp are eaten by fish, who are eaten by bigger fish, until they end up in the intestines of Cetaceans like whales or dolphins. Here they can live and reproduce for years, reentering the ocean in the animals' feces to start the cycle again.
While Anisakis abundance has risen, Pseudoterranova, which typically infects fish, sea lions and seals, has not. However, seals and sea lions have done much better than whales, Wood told ScienceAlert, which means one would expect Pseudoterranova abundance to have increased instead. However, she speculated it was possible the parasite was actually increasing because it had fewer hosts to pass through.
Other factors that could have caused the rise include the climate crisis and increased runoff from fertilizers, according to the press release.
So what happens if humans happen to ingest one of the worms? Nausea and vomiting that is unpleasant, but temporary.
"When they enter the intestine of a human, it's a great disappointment to the worm. They're not going to be able to complete their life cycle there," Wood told New Scientist.
Wood said that sushi lovers shouldn't worry, as chefs were expert de-wormers.
"I still eat sushi all the time," she told New Scientist.
However, if you are concerned, just cut your nigiri in half and look for worms yourself, she advised in the press release.
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As protests are taking place across our nation in response to the killing of George Floyd, we want to acknowledge the importance of this protest and the Black Lives Matter movement. Over the years, we've aimed to be sensitive and prioritize stories that highlight the intersection between racial and environmental injustice. From our years of covering the environment, we know that too often marginalized communities around the world are disproportionately affected by environmental crises.
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With more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and more than 100,000 deaths from the virus, physicians face unprecedented challenges in their efforts to keep Americans safe.
They also encounter what some call an "infodemic," an outbreak of misinformation that's making it more difficult to treat patients.
When Leaders and Doctors Spread Misinformation<p>When people in charge of towns, cities, states, and countries spread misinformation, the potential for belief in misinformation to result in policies can have harmful effects.</p><p><a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor?q=Bruce+E.+Hirsch%2C+MD&insurance=&location=&query_type=provider&physician_partners=false&default_view=list&gender=&language=&sort=relevancy" target="_blank">Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch</a>, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, says an example of this is when President Trump informed the public he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure.</p><p>"To approach this enormous challenge, we need some intellectual honesty and clarity, and to disregard expertise and to make decisions and model decisions based on hunches is inviting us to handle challenges on the basis of rumor and uninformed opinion. The magnitude of that error is epic," Hirsch told Healthline.</p><p>Stukus agrees, noting that the harm of this proclamation is documented.</p><p>"Early on when the president touted the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, people started to hoard this medicine, and state boards had to shut it down because they were getting so many prescriptions for this unproven therapy that it was not available for those who truly needed it, such as those who have lupus and autoimmune conditions," Stukus said.</p><p>He adds that calls to poison control centers increased after the president suggested using disinfectant to prevent contracting the new coronavirus.</p>
Listen to Science, Even When it Changes<p>When recommendations change or evidence flip-flops, skepticism may arise. However, Stukus says change is the beauty of science.</p><p>"That shows us that we can evolve, and if the evidence shows that our prior thoughts were incorrect, we need to be able to change our recommendations and advice based upon the best quality of evidence at the time," he said.</p><p>Pierre agrees.</p><p>"Science is an iterative process, whereby we arrive at facts and truth through repeated and controlled observations. That means that it's inherently self-correcting as we revise conclusions based on ongoing research. Scientific facts aren't immutable dogma chiseled on a tablet. They change based on the best available evidence we have at a given point in time," he said.</p><p>Because research of COVID-19 has only been underway for 6 months, information is evolving rapidly, and new information may contradict old.</p><p>"There's still much we don't know about exactly how [COVID-19] spreads, what effects it has on the body, or how to best treat it. That means that the best available evidence is preliminary, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore it or turn to other sources of information or opinion as if they're just as valid," Pierre said.</p><p>He explains that conspiracy theories based on mistrust lead to vulnerability to misinformation.</p><p>If people mistrust science because it sometimes "changes its mind," Pierre said, "that shouldn't be used to embrace other opinions based on no evidence at all, which are typically selected based on confirmation bias: what we want to believe rather than what the objective evidence supports."</p>
Where to Find the Best Information<p>Stukus says to start with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html" target="_blank">CDC</a> and <a href="https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus" target="_blank">NIH</a>. Then check with your local health officials, because COVID-19 guidelines may vary depending on where you live.</p><p>If you can't find information you need or have questions specifically related to you, call your primary care doctor.</p><p>"Your personal doctor should always be a resource for individual specific questions because they know best how to apply all the nuances retaining to your health, and how to incorporate all the other general [COVID-19] recommendations," Stukus said.</p><p><a href="https://www.eehealth.org/find-a-doctor/b/boyd-laura-b/" target="_blank">Dr. Laura Boyd</a>, primary care physician at Edward-Elmhurst Health Center in Elmhurst, Illinois, says her clinic receives a lot of calls about COVID-19.</p><p>"Most doctors' offices are receiving calls and answering questions, and doing phone or video visits to help clarify and/or order testing over the phone based on patients' symptoms. It is always best to call your doctor's office first instead of worrying about symptoms and waiting too long to seek treatment," she told Healthline.</p><p>If your primary care doctor has limited testing, she suggests looking on your state's public health website for available testing sites.</p><p>With a lot of unknowns related to this virus and disease, Boyd says many patients are feeling overwhelmed and anxious for a treatment.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there is no specific medication recommended for COVID for outpatient. There are a lot of ongoing studies with various drugs going on within the hospital setting. Patients should always contact their doctors about their specific symptoms as they can treat the symptoms that go along with COVID, but there is no cure," Boyd said.</p><p>While we wait for treatment and a vaccine, Hirsch, who treats patients hospitalized for COVID-19 complications on a daily basis, says everyone can do their part by washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart.</p><p>"As an infectious disease doctor working in the hospital, I see the damage of the pandemic and the worst cases of what's happening. We are trying to get the best possible outcome and confronting this overwhelming biologic reality of this terrible epidemic the best we can," Hirsch said.</p><p>Everyone at home can help in the fight too, he adds.</p><p>"Follow information that is science- and evidence-based, and avoid that which is not," he said.</p>
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