| CNN – After two people were admitted to the hospital with headaches and other painful symptoms, doctors in China pinpointed an infection with a unusual backstory.
They had eaten raw centipedes, according to a report published Monday in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
The first patient, a 78-year-old woman, came to the Guangzhou hospital in November 2012 with a headache, sleepiness and cognitive impairment.
[Andrew Zimmern, pictured, is known to prefer his centipedes fried – which sounds safer, but not any more appetizing. – Editor]
Weeks later, her 46-year-old son also came to the hospital with a headache that had lasted for more than 20 days.
Both patients had stiff necks, a sign of possible meningitis. Scans showed two suspicious spots in the woman’s brain, and one nodule in the man’s right lung.
Both patients had something in common: They had eaten raw centipedes from a vegetable market in Guangzhou.
Lab tests confirmed that they were infected with rat lungworm, otherwise known as Angiostrongylus cantonensis, which had caused a type of meningitis.
The parasite can fully mature in rats, not humans. “So when it gets in a human, it can get lost, and it will go to the brain, and it’ll stay there,” Heather Stockdale Walden, an assistant professor in the department of infectious diseases and pathology at the University of Florida, previously told CNN.
“When it gets to the brain, you can have eosinophilic meningitis,” she said, referring to an inflammation of the thin membrane covering the spinal cord and brain.
Humans have become infected with the parasite by eating contaminated plants and animals – including snails, slugs and even monitor lizards. But it was not known to be caused by eating centipedes, which have long been used in Chinese traditional medicine.
Still, it is rare to eat them raw, and “centipedes are not a normal diet,” Dr. Lingli Lu, one of the report’s authors and a neurologist at Zhujiang Hospital in Guangzhou, told CNN in an e-mail.