Most people have never heard of paragonimiasis and if you aren’t a fan of shellfish, you may even go through life without ever knowing what it is.
This disease was only discovered in 1879 in Taiwan butt since then there have been numerous outbreaks throughout the world.
Paragonimiasis is caused by a parasitic flatworm know as paragonimus which is found in crab or crayfish.
When left untreated the paragonimus, which is also referred to as a lung fluke can travel to the central nervous system causing serious and sometimes irreversible damage.
Species of Paragonimus have largely been found in countries like China, The Philippines, and other Asian countries.
Some species have been found in Africa as well as South America.
Humans get infected and develop paragonimiasis when they eat raw, pickled or partially cooked crab and crayfish.
The parasite is released after digestion and will migrate to the rest of the body, predominantly taking residence in the lungs.
It takes a month or 6 to 8 weeks for the larvae to mature into adults.
Signs and symptoms of paragonimiasis
About 20% of humans who ingest infected crustaceans remain asymptomatic but for most people the disease manifests itself by causing severe abdominal pain, and diarrhea.
As the larvae mature and find new ground in a person’s body symptoms like fever, persistent coughing that may produce a rust-colored sputum, chest pains, sweating, dyspnea and a general feeling of malaise.
Because of these symptoms many physics often misdiagnose this as tuberculosis. If the disease is not properly treated a person could start to exhibit advanced symptoms like hemoptysis (coughing of blood).
Other symptoms can occur as a result of the continued migration of young or mature flukes to organs other than the lungs.
Organs that might be severely affected are the liver, kidney, spleen, perineum, lymph nodes and the brain. There have been cases of cerebral paragonimiasis but it is rare.
Symptoms of paragonimiasis of the brain resemble those of meningitis but at an advanced phase, symptoms might include headaches, dizziness, nausea or vomiting and seizures.
Physical manifestations may also include:
· Clubbing of fingers
· Dry, persistent coughing which progresses from producing a rust colored sputum but sputum tinged with actual blood
· Abdominal masses
· Signs of pneumonia
· Blurred vision
· Sensory loss
Worse case scenarios include spinal involvement where paraplegia may occur or paresthesias ( a burning or prickly sensation which indicates an underlying neurological or nerve damage) of the lower extremities
Diagnosis and treatment
Paragonimus infection is diagnosed by analyzing the sputum or stool. If eggs or larvae are found then anti-parasitic treatment can be prescribed and administered.
There are other medications that may be prescribed to alleviate the symptoms but once the root cause is effectively dealt with, those symptoms will also disappear