The dreaded anisakis, is it easy to avoid?

06/25/2021 at 6:30 PM CEST

Summer and holidays is equal to an increase in the consumption of fish and shellfish. Spending the summer in coastal places ensures that we have access to these products at a reasonable price and, above all, with excellent quality.

And although the plan is tempting, you have to be careful when consuming seafood as they can be loaded with a very famous parasite, anisakis.

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It is a white, worm-shaped parasite about 3 cm long and less than 1 mm thick.

As explained by the Spanish Foundation for the Digestive System (FEAD), the larvae of these parasites are found in the intestine and some organs of the abdominal cavity of the fish, although they can be encapsulated in the muscles.

And be careful! Not only does it appear in “wild” fish, but farmed fish can also harbor these undesirable little worms.

What kind of fish can have anisakis?

The doctor Francisco Garcia Fernandez of the FEAD explains that the species most parasitized by anisakis are the hake and bonito. It can also be found in whiting, blue whiting, monkfish or mackerel.

«However, those that produce the most Anisakiasis episodes are the fish that are consumed with less preparation (raw, marinated & mldr;), such as anchovy, anchovy and sardine«, Warns the doctor.

And it is necessary to bear in mind that this parasite is capable of surviving at high temperatures, up to 50ºC, in contact with vinegar and some smoking methods.

There are other species that can also house anisakis: crustaceans such as lobster, prawn or crab; or cephalopods such as octopus, cuttlefish or squid.

For lovers of bivalves we have good news. The mussels, the others, the cockles or the clams are free of anisakis. “Their way of feeding, by filtration, prevents the larva from nesting in them,” says the doctor.

In any case, digestive health experts explain that “canned food is safe since the food is cooked prior to canning (excluding anchovies or pickles in this case).”

Symptoms of an anisakis infection

The data available to FEAD on the incidence of this parasite in the population is underestimated because, as recognized by experts, the number of cases “is probably much higher than published, since the symptoms it causes can be attributed to other processes and not be documented as Anisakiasis ».

The symptoms of an anisakis infection occur 48 hours after ingestion, when the larvae begin to penetrate the mucosa of the stomach or small intestine.

The discomfort can be very varied depending on the Digestive System Foundation:

Severe abdominal pain in the pit of the stomach Lower abdominal pain and signs of intestinal obstruction Nausea and vomiting It may also cause allergic reactions manifesting with mild or more severe hives It may also cause an anaphylactic reaction.

It may interest you: What is anaphylaxis? How to recognize and act on this type of allergic reaction?

How to avoid anisakis?

Health authorities tell us that it is quite easy to avoid anisakis because the methods for its elimination are very easy to carry out in our own kitchen.

So what do we have to do to eliminate it from fish or shellfish?

The first thing is to buy gutted fish, that is, clean. If it is not, we must clean it as soon as possible. It is preferable to consume the tails of large fish, trying to avoid the ventral areas near the digestive system of the fish, which is where there is a greater concentration of parasites. Submerge the fish at 60 ° C For at least 2 minutes on the entire piece during preparation, it ensures the destruction of the parasite. So frying, roasting or baking are the best options. In the case of the consumption of crustaceans, grilling or cooking them eliminates the risk of anisakis poisoning. If we are going to eat raw fish, or cooked with techniques that do not end with the parasite, such as marinated, smoked, carpaccios, pickles or brines, it is best to previously freeze the piece that we are going to consume. At home, it is necessary that the freezer is at -20ºC or less. This is only possible in refrigerators with at least 3 stars. If not, the best option is to buy frozen fish. Freezing should last for 5 days. If we are going to consume raw, smoked fish, in carpaccio, pickled, etc., in restaurants or other establishments, we should not worry since the law requires this type of premises to carry out the freezing process.

I have been infected by anisakis, what do I do?

Generally, this type of poisoning is not serious and its symptoms improve spontaneously. And there is no specific treatment against this type of parasitic infection.

It may interest you: What is anaphylaxis? How to recognize it and act before this type of allergic reaction?

Proton pump inhibitors, better known as gastric protectors, can be taken for digestive discomfort. If an intestinal obstruction occurs, corticosteroids may be a good option.

If, in addition to the infection, what is produced is an allergic reaction, it will also be necessary to resort to corticosteroids, in addition to the antihistamines.

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