Five Facts About the Japanese Tapeworm in North American Salmon.
Lately news headlines have been filled with reports of fish containing ‘gruesome tapeworms’ up and down the Pacific coast. These stories outline a Center for Disease Control report on the discovery of the Japanese tapeworm in US Salmon. They typically begin as factual; Japanese tapeworm have been discovered in Alaskan Salmon. From there they brush past important information and begin to sensationalize. Rather than informing the reader that this is not a new issue, the articles focus on the fear of these parasites slowly taking over their insides.
Here is what you need to know about the Japanese Tapeworm.
United States Salmon have always been infected with tapeworm.
There are multiple species of tapeworm. The two most prevalent are Salmon Tapeworm (Diphyllobothrium dendriticum) and Broad Fish Tapeworm (Diphyllobothrium latum). Neither are the Japanese Tapeworm (Diphyllobothrium nihonkaiense ). These two species are both known to infect fish in North America. Source: Diphyllobothrium
Tapeworm are one of the oldest parasites we know of.
Scientists have discovered tapeworm in 270 million year old fossilized shark feces. To put that in perspective the oldest evidence of homosapians are bone fragments which are only 200,000 years old. Sources: Science Daily, Annual Review of Anthropology.
It is very likely Japanese Tapeworm is not a new parasite in US Salmon.
Japanese Tapeworm was thought to be the same as Broad Fish Tapeworm until 1986. Up until now there have not been studies on Alaskan salmon containing Japanese Tapeworm. This was due to this species of tapeworm being a recent discovery, and the technology being limited. In an ADN.com interview Alaskan Department of Fish and Game fish pathologist Jayde Ferguson stated: “The Alaska discovery of Japanese broad tapeworm is a result of technology being better able to distinguish individual species of tapeworm rather than any aggressive spread of the Japanese variety.”
There has been proof of United States mammals being infected with Japanese Tapeworm for at least nine years.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states: “For decades, the possible occurrence of the Japanese broad tapeworm on the Pacific coast of North America was ignored, but since 2008, human infection with adult tapeworms and natural infection of carnivores (wolves and bears) with adult tapeworms have been confirmed.” The Scientists could only hypothesize that these large mammals were contracting these tapeworms from fish. With this study completed they can link their knowledge of Japanese tapeworm in mammals with their diet of Salmon.
Cooking or freezing the fish eliminates all the species of tapeworm.
Consuming raw fish is the only way to contract a parasite. Lucky for Sushi and Sashimi lovers fish from a reputable restaurant is not a risk. However this fish may not be as fresh as you think it is. According the the Parasite Destruction Guarantee published by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fish being sold for raw consumption must be“frozen and stored at a temperature of -20°C (-4°F) or below for a minimum of 168 hours (7 days).” This kills all species of tapeworm and other parasites.
You should already be aware of Parasites in Wild Game
The CDC published this article because there is now proof of this tapeworm species in North American fish. This is a big discovery, and there needs to be more scientific research pursued. It should not affect the way an average consumer looks at a piece of Salmon. It does not change the way you acquire and prepare your fish. You should already be following the guidelines to destroy the parasites which exist in all wild game.
On the other hand perhaps this is the best thing that has ever happened for these fish. Due to such high demand Salmon are being commercially overfished, and driven to extinction. Maybe these news articles will lessen desire and limit our consumption. We should all focus more on these animals being wild creatures living in a balanced and fragile eco-system They are not just pieces of meat which arrive perfectly shrink wrapped to a piece of styrofoam. They have a life cycle, diseases, and parasites like every other living creature.