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Maybe You Were Thinking About Eating Raw Centipedes. Don’t.

Scientists in China now have hard evidence that eating raw centipedes is a really bad idea.

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RESTRICTED -- Maybe You Were Thinking About Eating Raw Centipedes. Don’t.
Donald G. McNeil Jr.
, New York Times

Scientists in China now have hard evidence that eating raw centipedes is a really bad idea.

That might go without saying in most parts of the world. But centipedes are an established remedy in traditional medicine in China.

As an ancient nostrum for epilepsy, stroke, cancer, tetanus or rheumatoid arthritis, the 2-inch-long arthropods are supposed to be eaten dried, powdered or after being steeped in alcohol — not raw.

But a study published Monday in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene describes two hospital patients — a mother and a son — who ended up with rat lungworms in their brains after eating wild-caught centipedes the son had purchased at a farmer’s market.

Rat lungworms — named because they were first found in 1934 in the pulmonary arteries of a Norway rat in Guangzhou, China — can be life-threatening. But usually they infect only people who eat raw snails or slugs.

Those include fans of northern Thai cuisine, children (or sometimes adults) who eat slugs on a dare, and unlucky salad-eaters who accidentally ingest slugs with unwashed lettuce.

In rare cases, lungworms can be picked up from undercooked shrimp or crabs that ate the larvae. The new study is the first proving they can be found in centipedes, too.

The patients, a 78-year-old woman and her 46-year-old son, were admitted to Zhujiang Hospital in Guangzhou in 2012 with headaches and stiff necks, signs of meningitis.

“It took us some time to figure out what they were suffering from,” said Dr. Lingli Lu, a neurologist at the hospital and co-author of the study.

After eliminating bacterial and viral causes, she said, the treatment team focused on common parasites like cysticercosis, caused by pork tapeworms, or toxoplasmosis, which comes from cat feces.

Ultimately, she said, a meningitis specialist suggested a test for lungworms.

The previously healthy man had listened to someone who told him that raw centipedes would prevent winter colds, Lu said, and his mother “was old and takes anything the son gives her.”

Both patients recovered after treatment with an anti-parasitic drug and corticosteroids.

To confirm their suspicions, the researchers bought 20 live centipedes at the market that the son had patronized and found seven of them teeming with lungworm larvae.

Asked why anyone would sell live centipedes — which have a venomous bite — Lu explained that some traditionalists boil them in teas or pickle them in wine to use as home remedies.

“In my opinion, it would be rude to tell the customer, ‘Don’t eat them raw,'” she said. “It would say the customer is stupid.”

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