Emerging food-borne parasites

Vet Parasitol. 2009 Aug 7;163(3):196-206. doi: 10.1016/j.vetpar.2009.05.026. Epub 2009 Jun 6.


Parasitic food-borne diseases are generally underrecognised, however they are becoming more common. Globalization of the food supply, increased international travel, increase of the population of highly susceptible persons, change in culinary habits, but also improved diagnostic tools and communication are some factors associated with the increased diagnosis of food-borne parasitic diseases worldwide. This paper reviews the most important emerging food-borne parasites, with emphasis on transmission routes. In a first part, waterborne parasites transmitted by contaminated food such as Cyclospora cayetanensis, Cryptosporidium and Giardia are discussed. Also human fasciolosis, of which the importance has only been recognised in the last decades, with total numbers of reported cases increasing from less than 3000 to 17 million, is looked at. Furthermore, fasciolopsiosis, an intestinal trematode of humans and pigs belongs to the waterborne parasites as well. A few parasites that may be transmitted through faecal contamination of foods and that have received renewed attention, such as Toxoplasma gondii, or that are (re-)emerging, such as Trypanosoma cruzi and Echinococcus spp., are briefly reviewed. In a second part, meat-borne parasite infections are reviewed. Humans get infected by eating raw or undercooked meat infected with cyst stages of these parasites. Meat inspection is the principal method applied in the control of Taenia spp. and Trichinella spp. However, it is often not very sensitive, frequently not practised, and not done for T. gondii and Sarcocystis spp. Meat of reptiles, amphibians and fish can be infected with a variety of parasites, including trematodes (Opisthorchis spp., Clonorchis sinensis, minute intestinal flukes), cestodes (Diphyllobothrium spp., Spirometra), nematodes (Gnathostoma, spp., anisakine parasites), and pentastomids that can cause zoonotic infections in humans when consumed raw or not properly cooked. Another important zoonotic food-borne trematode is the lungfluke (Paragonimus spp.). Traditionally, these parasitic zoonoses are most common in Asia because of the particular food practices and the importance of aquaculture. However, some of these parasites may emerge in other continents through aquaculture and improved transportation and distribution systems. Because of inadequate systems for routine diagnosis and monitoring or reporting for many of the zoonotic parasites, the incidence of human disease and parasite occurrence in food is underestimated. Of particular concern in industrialised countries are the highly resistant waterborne protozoal infections as well as the increased travel and immigration, which increase the exposure to exotic diseases. The increased demand for animal proteins in developing countries will lead to an intensification of the production systems in which the risk of zoonotic infections needs to be assessed. Overall, there is an urgent need for better monitoring and control of food-borne parasites using new technologies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging / parasitology*
  • Food Parasitology*
  • Helminthiasis*
  • Humans
  • Protozoan Infections*
  • Zoonoses / parasitology*