You might not think of swamp eels as something you'd even want to touch, much less eat for dinner... but in other parts of the world, particularly Asian countries, the creatures are considered a delicacy. That could prove to be a big problem, as a new study has revealed that over 25% of eels sold in Asian markets were found to contain live Gnathostoma – parasitic worms of the family known as nematodes.
The study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was recently published in the quaintly-named journal Emerging Infectious Diseases (and later brought to our attention by I Fucking Love Science). It reports that 13 out of 47 eels purchased at Asian markets in the US (most were imported legally from Bangladesh) were contaminated with Gnathostoma.
Now this is where things get really creepy: certain larval stages of the worm, when ingested by humans, can burrow through the intestinal walls and into other organs, including the skin and central nervous system. If the worms are not removed (usually through surgery), the infestation can lead to meningitis and other potentially fatal diseases.
Photo: Chiang Mai University
The CDC recommends the best method of preventing infection is to cook the eels thoroughly (the same precaution extends to freshwater fish, shellfish and poultry), but personally I'm going to go that extra step and just not eat any swamp eels ever.
By the way... do you live in New York City? Do you drink the tap water? Wait till you see what's wriggling in every drop!