By Leisa Zigman I-Team Reporter
St. Louis (KSDK) - It's a unique situation and it has researchers with the U.S. Center for Disease Control scratching their heads.
It turns out, more people in Missouri are getting drunk and then daring each other to eat raw crayfish than in the other 49 states combined.
Crayfish often have parasites and when humans ingest them, the parasite crawls through a person's intestines and burrows into their lungs or brain, ultimately making them sick.
Dr. Gary Weil with Washington University is a leading authority on parasites. He recently published a paper for the Center for Disease Control regarding Missouri's unique situation.
"We had about 12 cases here at Washington Medical Center and the VA since 2009 and that was a big increase because prior to that only seven cases have been reported for all of North America in the prior 50 years," said Dr. Weil.
Cooking crayfish kills the parasite, but Dr Weil warns, "If you eat them raw you are playing Russian roulette because you can get this very bad disease."
The parasite causes fever, chest pain, and a chronic cough. He's alerting colleagues to consider parasites when these chronic symptoms appear.
"Many doctors are really not aware of this infection because it's very rare so a lot of patients are treated with antibiotics or other treatment that doesn't help," he said.
Dr. Weil's crawfish patients included a 10-year-old boy, a 26-year-old woman, and seven men between the ages of 20 and 43. They all recovered after hospitalization and treatment.