Top 10 Foodborne Parasites

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NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania — The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) released the Multicriteria-based Ranking for Risk Management of Foodborne Parasites on July 1 to address food safety concerns in developing countries. These two agencies within the U.N. ranked 24 foodborne parasites based on their impact on global health.

Below is a list of the top ten foodborne parasites:

1. Taenia Solium – Since it is most commonly caused by the consumption of raw or undercooked pork, this type of taenia is also called pork tapeworm. Even though there are typically mild or no symptoms for taenia solium, this type of parasite can result in cysticercosis, an infection that can cause seizures.

2. Echinococcus granulosus – Although dogs are a definitive host for this tapeworm, people can also become infected by echinococcus granulosus after direct contact with an infected dog or after consuming food, water or soil contaminated by an infected dog’s waste.

3. Echinococcus multilocularis – This second type of tapeworm is mainly found in produce and in the waste of wild animals. It is more uncommon for humans to be infected with this type of tapeworm, but once infected, parasitic tumors can form in the liver, lungs, brain and other organs causing abdominal pain, weakness and weight loss.

4. Toxoplasma Gondii – This parasite usually never causes illnesses, but for pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems, serious health issues may arise by eating undercooked or contaminated meats.

5. Cryptosporidium – Also called crypto, this parasite is caused by drinking contaminated water. Crypto is a cause of waterborne diseases, and often results in cryptosporidiosis, a diarrheal disease.

6. Entamoeba Histolytica – When infected with this parasite, through the consumption of contaminated water or produce, it often leads to the disease Amebiasis, which is most commonly found in tropical areas or areas with little access to sanitation.

7. Trichinella Spiralis – Similarly to Taenia Solium, Trichinella Spiralis is caused by eating undercooked or raw meat, and is commonly referred to as pork roundworm. The symptoms of a severe infection can include heart or breathing problems and even death.

8. Opisthorchiidae – This particular family of flatworms is usually found in freshwater fish. Common conditions resulting from infection include dyspepsia, diarrhea or abdominal pain.

9. Ascaris – Ascaris, along with hookworm and whipworm, is referred to as soil-transmitted helminthes and is spread through hand-to-mouth contact with contaminated soil or produce. Although symptoms usually include abdominal discomfort, serious cases can result in intestinal blockage and inhibit a child’s growth.

10. Trypanosoma Cruzi – Chagas disease is caused by this single-cell organism, and Chagas disease can lead to serious health threats including heart palpitations or a dilated heart.

All ten of these parasitic illnesses are threatening the health of millions globally, particularly in developing countries where access to sanitation and preventative health measures are limited.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission was the global food standards organization that requested both WHO and FAO develop this report. Along with these two organizations, 22 nations, a regional body and 21 experts on foodborne parasites originally created a list of 93 parasites, but it was then limited to 24 based on the following criteria:

1. Number of global illnesses

2. Global distribution

3. Acute morbidity

4. Chronic morbidity

5. Economic impact

Now that the top 24 parasites have been identified, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, with assistance from the WHO and FAO, is working to decrease the magnitude of these illnesses in the food chain. To view the full list of 24 foodborne parasites, visit http://www.fao.org/3/a-i3649e.pdf.​

Meghan Orner

Sources: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Food Safety News, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Photo: Wikipedia

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Meghan Orner

Meghan is a BORGEN Magazine writer from Norristown, Pennsylvania.

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