One of the most common ways to beat the summer heat is by taking a float trip and it is a particularly popular pastime in the state of Missouri. However, within the past year, there have been some floaters hospitalized with an illness which is so odd and startling, it can be nearly impossible to diagnose the problem or illness accurately. One particular floater pulled a live, raw, crawfish out of Jack’s Fork River swallowed it whole. The person saw others doing it, so he followed suit and thought nothing of it.
Fast-forward, three months later, and the man started having profuse coughing spells, high fever and shortness of breath, which he never attributed to the raw crawfish incident. All the man knew was that he was becoming sicker and sicker and despite all different types of medical testing, physicians could not reach an accurate diagnosis. Seven months later, and after seeing a physician at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, the man found out he had a parasite called Paragonimiasis. What is this parasite and what makes is so odd?
Paragonimiasis is a food-borne parasite caused by the lung fluke Paragonimus westermani. The infection in humans is caused by the consumption of raw or undercooked freshwater crawfish or crabs and affects an estimated 22 million people worldwide each year. The disease attacks the person’s lungs and it is so rare in North America, there have only been seven recorded cases throughout the country. However, in the state of Missouri, over the past three years there have been seven more cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control.
Most of the recent victims come from the St. Louis area and the state health advisory of Missouri has issued a warning to physicians and posted warnings at float trip and canoe sites all over the state. Once the man was properly diagnosed, treatment requires a two-day course of anti-parasitic medications to kill the worm and most people can expect to make a full and complete recovery.
Now because of the recent resurgence of the illness, researchers at Washington University are going through several years of medical records to determine if any people were misdiagnosed. Because the parasite can live in a human for as long as ten years, it can mean many individuals were not assessed and diagnosed properly and as a result, it may require anti-parasitic medications to eradicate the organism from the body. It is important to never consume undercooked or raw freshwater crab or crawfish, and if any of the symptoms above are present, it is advised to seek medical attention and to be sure to mention it to a physician in order to receive the right treatment.