Sushi Parasite Scare Story Spreads Across Global News Outlets

Warnings in a British medical journal that eating sushi could lead to parasitic infections have spread like wildfire in global news media outlets, although the Norwegian Seafood Council has downplayed the scare

Last Friday (May 12), the BBC reported sushi's growing popularity in the West could be linked to rising infections of parasitic worms. The BBC cited an article written by doctors published in the British Medical Journal.

Experts had treated a 32-year-old man, in Lisbon, who was found to have parasite larvae on his gut lining. 

He had been suffering stomach pain, vomiting and fever for a week.

Tests showed he had contracted anisakiasis, a parasitic disease caused by anisakid nematodes (worms) that can invade the stomach wall or intestine of humans. Anisakiasis occurs when infected larvae are ingested from undercooked or raw fish or squid.

The BBC report noted that most cases of anisakiasis to date had been reported in Japan, but warned "it has been increasingly recognized in western countries".

No! Sushi

The story was quickly circulated by mainstream media in the UK.

Source: Google News, Friday (May 12)

The Sun, one of the UK's most popular tabloids, ran with the headline: "Sushi warning after man’s severe gut pain turns out to be ‘a parasitic WORM growing in his stomach’". 

The Telegraph, a broadsheet national newspaper, reported: "The growing popularity of sushi could fuel a rise in deadly parasitic worm infections, doctors have warned."

"In severe cases it can cause an anaphylactic reaction, with the parasites triggering an erratic heartbeat and respiratory failure, which can be fatal," said the report. Neither the BMJ article nor the case report itself used the word deadly, or other words to that effect.

Source: BMJ

Nearly all the stories published online carried a picture taken during the endoscopy of the Lisbon man's stomach, showing the parasite (see picture).

The story was then picked up in other European countries, before hitting mainstream US news stations CNN and Fox News, as the US Eastern Seaboard woke Friday morning. A report by CBS News has been shared more than 11,000 times on Facebook. CBS News tweeted the story again over the weekend. 

Doctors warn a sushi parasite that embeds in the stomach is on the rise

— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 14, 2017

Over the weekend and earlier this week, news agencies all over the world, including in China, India and Australia also ran the story. 

Source: Google News in Chinese

As of May 18 the story is still being reported, while follow-up stories are also now being published. 

One, published on the website >Lifehacker, explains how to eat sushi without getting worms: the answer is to flash freeze the sushi at -31°F or below and store it in a freezer for at least 15 hours. Freezing is the industry's standard method of killing parasites in raw fish, it said.

The BBC's own advice at the end of its article, is "to remove the guts of the fish, freeze it for at least four days and then cook thoroughly before eating."

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Sushi parasite scare story spreads across global news outlets