WASHINGTON, July 30 (Xinhua) -- Chinese researchers reported a dangerous food-borne parasite typically found in snails and other mollusks, which were detected in two patients in a Chinese hospital.
The researchers traced back to the consumption of raw wild centipedes, according to a case report published on Monday in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
Researchers from the Southern Medical University and Zhujiang Hospital in Guangzhou said that it's the first time the rat lungworm, named for its preference for the pulmonary arteries of rats, had been detected in centipedes.
"We don't typically hear of people eating raw centipedes, but apparently these two patients believed that raw centipedes would be good for their health," said Lu Lingli, a co-author of the report who works at Zhujiang Hospital.
Mild infections with rat lungworm may resolve on their own, but the parasite can penetrate the brain and spinal cord, which can lead to meningitis, an infection of the fluid around the brain, and, in rare instances, paralysis and death.
Centipedes themselves are occasionally sold in the Chinese agricultural markets or routinely sold in traditional Chinese medicine pharmacies due to their perceived medicinal properties.
Dried or crushed centipedes have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of ailments, including whooping cough, tetanus and cardiovascular diseases, though usually in a dried or powder form, which does not transmit the parasite.
Now, extracts made from the centipede are being assessed for their potential to fight cancer and to serve as a potent pain killer. But rarely are raw wild centipedes consumed to treat ailments.
Lu said that the two patients, a 78-year-old woman and her 46-year-old son, came from the rural countryside where a rumor was circulating that consuming raw centipedes also offered potential health benefits.
Both mother and son were cured after treatment with a 21-day course of the anti-parasitic drug albendazole and a two-week course of the steroid dexamethasone to address inflammation that arises as the parasites die.
The researchers purchased 20 centipedes from the agricultural market where the patients had acquired their centipedes. The immature, or larvae, form of rat lungworms was detected in seven of them.