Opinion: Beware of deadly little worms, Phuket

PHUKET: I am surprised that the Department of Disease Control does not inform the public of or educate it about the dangers of eating raw foods.

There is a disease, called gnathostomiasis, caused by a nasty little worm that is ingested by eating raw or partially cooked foods, particularly freshwater fish and crustaceans, but also eels, frogs, birds and reptiles.

All these foods in Thailand should be thoroughly cooked. I contracted the disease a couple of years ago from eating raw freshwater fish and/or crab.

I was lucky because it appeared visibly under the skin of my foot. Lucky, because once it breaks through the gut wall it can move around the body very fast – from one side of the body to the other – overnight and mostly unseen.

It is a nasty little worm for many reasons. It is nasty because if it enters the eye it causes blindness; if it enters the brain it causes huge damage to the brain function, which could result in death; and if it enters the spinal cord, it’s fatal.

Paralysis can take hold within four days, and death within two weeks.

It is most common in Thailand and Japan, and is caused by eating dishes such as koi pla (a raw fish in spicy salad dish from Thailand), goi ca son (a raw fish dish from Vietnam) and sashimi and sushi (Japan).

However, thorough cooking kills the larvae.

There are other ways to eat it raw, but safely, such as by freezing it at 20 degrees Celsius for at least five days, marinading it in vinegar for at least six hours or by marinading it in soy sauce for at least 12 hours.

So, if you want to eat raw food, safely, make sure it’s frozen for a week before you eat it.

— Andrew Whitecross

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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