What's Eating You?

What's Eating You?: People and Parasites

EUGENE H. KAPLAN
Susan L. Kaplan
Sandy Chichester Rivkin
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7s3vh
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    What's Eating You?
    Book Description:

    InWhat's Eating You?Eugene Kaplan recounts the true and harrowing tales of his adventures with parasites, and in the process introduces readers to the intimately interwoven lives of host and parasite.

    Kaplan has spent his life traveling the globe exploring oceans and jungles, and incidentally acquiring parasites in his gut. Here, he leads readers on an unforgettable journey into the bizarre yet oddly beautiful world of parasites. In a narrative that is by turns frightening, disgusting, and laugh-out-loud funny, Kaplan describes how drinking contaminated water can cause a three-foot-long worm to burst from your arm; how he "gave birth" to a parasite the size and thickness of a pencil while working in Israel; why you should never wave a dead snake in front of your privates; and why fleas are attracted to his wife. Kaplan tells stories about leeches feasting on soldiers in Vietnam; sea cucumbers with teeth in their anuses that seem to encourage the entry of symbiotic fish; the habits of parasites that cause dysentery, river blindness, and other horrifying diseases--and much, much more. Along the way, he explains the underlying science, including parasite evolution and host-parasite physiology.

    Informative, frequently lurid, and hugely entertaining, this beautifully illustrated book is a must-read for health-conscious travelers, and anyone who has ever wondered if they picked up a tapeworm from that last sushi dinner.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3220-0
    Subjects: Health Sciences, Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE: PERSONAL PARASITES
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. APOLOGIA
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. ON THE SACREDNESS OF LIFE
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  7. INTRODUCTION. THE SALINE SOLUTION—AN INNER SEA
    (pp. 1-5)

    There is another sea, a dark red ocean of blood filled with monsters no less threatening than a shark or venomous blue-ringed octopus. For the majority of humans on the Earth, this inner sea is populated with dangerous beasts—parasites. They suck the blood from the outside or use it as a habitat, drawing sustenance from the human body and wringing from it life-sustaining forces that they pervert to their own needs.

    Parasites can flow with the blood to take haven in the richly oxygenated lungs, suckling on the inside of the breast rather than the outside, to prepare themselves...

  8. 1 LAND OF SMILES
    (pp. 6-14)

    Standing on a street corner. Crowded, bustling. Watching a street vendor grilling what seems to be hot dogs. Hungry, I move closer—and recoil in shock. Grotesquely hanging from the edges of the bun are masses of blackened, rigid strings. Customers walk away munching with gusto, spitting out the strings as they walk. Making believe I am still hungry, I saunter up to the grill. Steam rises from charred corpses with elongate bodies and ten burnt legs. A pair of long, skinny appendages projects frontward, revealing this streetside delicacy to be the giant Malaysian prawn,Macrobrachium rosenbergii. It seems to...

  9. 2 AN ENCOUNTER WITH JORDAN ROSE
    (pp. 15-24)

    Tel Aviv, Israel, 1968. The two-year mission at Tel Aviv University loomed ahead. We were “strangers in a strange land.” This was the exotic Middle East. We were fearful and uncomfortable in this foreign place. The university assigned a person to help us find housing. He drove us through the surrounding communities. They looked unfamiliar. We felt disconnected.

    Suddenly, America appeared. Down a street that ended in sand dunes, we saw a little bit of home. A small house surrounded by a neat lawn. Bougainvillea covered one wall in bright orange flame. Profusely blooming pink-purple oleander hedges bordered the property....

  10. 3 I HAD A FARM IN AFRICA
    (pp. 25-32)

    The deputy minister of agriculture was in a jolly mood. Behind him stood the voluptuous head chemist of the ministry. She appeared to be about thirty years old and was carrying a parasol. Two low-level administrators followed. I was sitting in an old boat with an even older outboard motor—the ministry’s research vessel—together with two boatmen. We were moored to a pier on one of the fabled lagunes, elongated lakes that were the estuaries of the many small rivers surrounding Abidjan, the thriving commercial capital city of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast, West Africa).

    Warm greetings turned animated as,...

  11. 4 DEATH OF A MOUSE
    (pp. 33-39)

    Somewhere in an African Jungle, millennia ago, a mosquito sucked up a minute droplet of blood from an African tree rat,Thamnomys rutilans.In its blood were millions of red blood cells infected with a precursor of a modern malaria parasite.

    Some time after that, the mosquito took a blood meal from another rat, salivating madly over its rich red repast. The saliva, thick with the offspring of the malaria parasites, poured into the wound. It contained a clot-busting anticoagulant that kept the blood flowing during the few moments required for the mosquito to pump enough blood to fill the...

  12. 5 INTIMATE RELATIONSHIPS
    (pp. 40-47)

    The voice on the telephone was unmistakable. The imperious tones of the boss projected the omnipotence of royalty. Never mind that the ancestors of Alexandra Proskoriakoff-Minsky were probably thrown out of Russia with the rest of the Jews. The fact that her regal voice came from on high (Jerusalem) added to the feeling that one must obey her command. “A team of British experts is coming to Israel for a visit and we need you to entertain them. Show them around the Old City (Jerusalem).” “I am very busy, Alex,” I protested. “None of us has the time, and we...

  13. 6 A PEEK INTO THE ANUS OF—MY CHILD
    (pp. 48-57)

    Pitiful cries emanated from three-year-old Julie’s room. She was wailing, her eyes closed, half asleep. “My vagina hurts.” We could find no cause—no redness, no swelling. “Go to sleep, baby,” I crooned. The next night, the sad scene repeated itself. We brought her to the pediatrician. The doctor thought a few moments and pedantically made a pronouncement. “She has a pinworm infection.” “Impossible,” I blurted, repeating in my mind the notes I had recently taken in a course in human parasitology at the medical school. “First of all, the worm crawls around the anus, not the vagina. “Second, it...

  14. 7 THE WELL-HUNG DOG
    (pp. 58-68)

    A blue-gray pall of smoke and stench hung over the tuk-tuks, tiny motorized rickshas that are the taxis of the masses in Bangkok. Traffic lights acted like starting gates at horse races, the tuk-tuks frenetically jockeying for position. The wait for the light to change seemed interminable, as disproportionately loud roars and dense bluish clouds of exhaust fumes smothered our senses. A new smoke-belching race started at each corner.

    Frazzled by the intense heat and noise, we decided to take a water bus upriver to our next destination, the Wat of the Reclining Buddha, a magnificent golden-domed temple at the...

  15. 8 FIERY SERPENT
    (pp. 69-74)

    An almost imperceptible breeze created sky-colored rippling reflections serrating the serene surface of the papyrus-edged pond. The early morning sun reflected from the huge river in the distance—a silvery slice slashing the savage desert with a knife of green. A few duncolored, squarish houses formed a crescent around this pool spawned by an eddy of the river, their pale mud bricks speckled with fibrous straw. Water-filled irrigation ditches, scarcely wider than a few paces, radiated from the shores of the pond.

    A girl was washing white galabiyas, enveloping robes designed to fend off prying eyes with their voluminous folds...

  16. 9 IT HARDLY EVER HAPPENS
    (pp. 75-81)

    I have always wanted to eat sea urchin eggs—don’t ask me why. Perhaps for their exotic novelty; perhaps for their famed aphrodisiac properties; or perhaps because I expected that they would make me rich. The opportunity came when I found out that a commonly eaten sushi dish called uni is composed of raw sea urchin roe wrapped in seaweed. For a non-sushi-eating kind of guy, the dish is daunting, but I managed to swallow the rosy-gold, egg-laden caviar and its wrapping. “Not bad,” I thought—slightly fishy with a crisply oceanic aura and a good nose. I cannot report...

  17. 10 THE ANTI-SEMITIC TAPEWORM
    (pp. 82-90)

    How awful is that ancient form of racism, anti-Semitism. Is it possible to go to further lengths of evil? Horrifically, yes. In the animal kingdom a monster adds sexism, a dollop of malevolent anti-female bias. Then it adds to this hellish mixture a particularly terrible ingredient—it attacks the elderly. Anti-Semitism and sexism, not only against Jewish women in general,but against elderly Jewish women.

    Nature abhors no form of behavior. Morality, as created by humans to curb their behavioral excesses, cannot be imposed on other animals. Yet the mind cannot but attribute the term “monster” to a parasite that...

  18. 11 MOTHER ALWAYS WANTED ME TO BE A REAL DOCTOR
    (pp. 91-97)

    The secretary handed me the phone, a look of consternation on her face. Evidently this was some sort of emergency. “Hello? Is this Doctor Kaplan?”—a woman’s voice bordering on hysteria. “Yes?” “Please come over, my husband . . . ” she hesitated. “He is sitting on the toilet and afraid to move.” “Why?” I asked. “He says that there is a white string hanging from his anus,” she shrieked. “Please come over immediately!”

    “I am not that kind of doctor, madam. You need a physician.” Feeling inadequate, I tried to sound as compassionate as I could, and said softly,...

  19. 12 MISSUS MURPHY’S BABY
    (pp. 98-108)

    Missus Murphy looked out of the window at the dun-colored vastness of the Australian outback and sighed. Holding her bloated belly, she wondered out loud, “When will this damned pregnancy end?” She was disgusted. It was hard to waddle outside and face hours of intense heat and flies in the sheep-shearing shed. This was the day after she was due and she was worried. “Maybe the doctor miscalculated?”

    A week later, a concerned doctor at the clinic told her, “There is no sign of activity—none of the preliminary contractions that happen before birth. Come back in a few days...

  20. 13 THE DAY I FLUNKED THE MACHO TEST
    (pp. 109-116)

    Dead soldiers (empty beer bottles) marched in serried ranks across the table to become by the end of the evening a veritable army. Beer-inspired lubricity lent animation to the intense conversation as young postdocs and younger graduate students tried their latest inspirations out on the director of the lab. Brilliant ideas were bandied about. New theories and clever hypotheses crashed against the wall of reason, the older and wiser chief scientist.

    The throbbing drumbeat of the blues exacerbated my headache. I closed my eyes against the flickering neon lights. The cheap booze and beer-bottle smell made me nauseous. I longed...

  21. 14 THE BIBLICAL PLAGUES
    (pp. 117-126)

    The little boy awakens in the stifling heat of the desert sun. He stretches and walks out of the shade of his straw-and-mud brick house into the glare of the treeless Sahara. Ambling sleepily, he wanders to the nearby irrigation canal and pees into it. The beginning of another mundane day. But this scenario of morning’s nascence is different. There is a blood in his urine, making it appear orange. He watches as the colorful stream of urine merges with the slowly flowing current. This boy is completing an ancient biological ritual—the passing of a deadly parasite.

    Afterwards, he...

  22. 15 ALLEY CATS AND SEAGULLS
    (pp. 127-136)

    Alley cats in Brooklyn were a persecuted lot. No wonder they howled, as if in pain, deep into the night. We street urchins hounded them unmercifully. My friend, Geno, and two buddies stealthily stalked their prey, a raunchy, scarred tomcat, with BB guns at the ready. This was not a lion-hunting safari, it was three teenagers creeping down an alley between two houses. But it was as dangerous as the African plains.

    Geno and the rest of the safari penetrated deep into the alley, deep enough to be seen from the kitchen window. No cat. The intrepid hunters retreated to...

  23. 16 A BETTER MOUSETRAP
    (pp. 137-143)

    A man named Sherman invented a better mousetrap. It consists of a flat aluminum sandwich that springs open when squeezed, turning it into an eight-inch-long rectangular dead-end tunnel. One end is hinged and attached to a seesaw trigger on which is smeared a dab of peanut butter. The other end is closed. A small rodent smells the peanut butter, enters the trap, and trips the trigger/treadle. The door snaps closed. The mouse is trapped!

    I became adept at setting the traps. Removing one from a holster on my waist, I squeezed it. Pop! It became a dully glowing metallic rectangle....

  24. 17 SCANDALS AND GHOSTS
    (pp. 144-154)

    The muted scream stopped, severed by the muffled murmur of a hundred excited voices. Where was the pandemonium coming from? Suddenly the ornate double doors of the auditorium next to my lab burst open and a crowd of well-coiffed, elegant-looking, matronly women emerged. Faces flushed and clearly upset, they were literally carrying one of their own, her arm held over her eyes as if mocking the heroine of a silent movie. What tragedy had befallen her? What had led to the emotional outburst that filtered through the walls of my laboratory? Later on, I found out that my fate hinged...

  25. 18 SPINY-HEADED MONSTERS
    (pp. 155-164)

    The biology building may have dated from the founding of the university in 1884. Halls were narrow warrens of mustiness and decay; shiny black floors were layered with scraps of linoleum. High walls, painted institutional green, had turned grayish with dust. In this ancient environment my colleagues were attempting to perform cutting-edge science. An electron microscope was quartered downstairs.

    The bathroom on our floor was a green cave illuminated by a few dim bulbs from the ceiling high above. The light seemed to be sucked in by the now dull, formerly shiny walls of the stalls. The urinal was a...

  26. 19 BLOODSUCKING BEASTS
    (pp. 165-173)

    The sickening, sulfurous stench that accompanied each muddy step waned as the patrol emerged from the mangrove swamp. Twisted aerial roots hanging from the densely packed trees no longer grasped at the infantryman’s fatigues, now blackened with stinking mud to his groin.

    Jungle replaced swamp, and the sweet, fecund aroma of rotting organic matter supplanted the sharp, sea-soaked air of the swamp. It had rained that day, the deafening tropical downpour that was part of daily life in Vietnam. Every leaf dripped; breathing the thick, humid air was exhausting. He peered through the rising mist, searching for an enemy enshrouded...

  27. 20 ODE TO A COCKROACH
    (pp. 174-183)

    At this writing, unique and marvelous New Orleans, with its “easy” streets, exotic, sinful French Quarter, and redolence of jazz and jasmine, is smothered in filth, a monument to nature’s wrath and mankind’s incompetence. But it will arise like a phoenix. Its streets will inevitably teem again with its earliest returning inhabitants—cockroaches.

    Walking home from the lab late at night was an adventure. Huge living missiles whizzed past my head; crunches emanated from underfoot. Hot, humid New Orleans, an early warning of what might happen as a result of global warming, was a breeding ground for all sorts of...

  28. 21 BATS, BUGS, AND BLOODY BITES
    (pp. 184-194)

    The expedition was a great success. My colleagues returned home with small vials of specimens suspended in the subzero cold of liquid-nitrogen-filled stainless steel canisters. Brought back over thousands of miles from uncharted jungles of South America, they were bat salivary glands.

    Why bat salivary glands? They must be important. The work of the distinguished leader of the safari was subsidized by a number of federal agencies. Or does research on bat salivary glands qualify this project for the Golden Fleece Award presented by former senator William Proxmire for scientific projects he deemed “a waste of taxpayer money”? (Thus did...

  29. 22 LITTLE FLEAS HAVE LITTLER FLEAS
    (pp. 195-202)

    We were coming home from a camping trip. Our dog, Bandy—named for the shape of her legs—was on the back seat, sleeping on wise wife’s extra skirt. Bandy was an apartment dog. Her limited life was devoted to destroying drapes, eating furniture, and defecating on the floor. Here was her opportunity to get into the great outdoors. Ecstasy. She ran around in the woods for the whole week of vacation. Evidently this paragon of apartment life had met another dog. Her pristine cleanliness was sullied.

    We reached a restaurant. Wise wife put her skirt on over her shorts....

  30. 23 HOW TO GET RID OF CRABS
    (pp. 203-210)

    New Orleans, Tulane University parasitology laboratory, 1963. A blushing fraternity boy deposits a vial on my lab table and runs out. At first the contents are not discernible. I hold the vial up to the light. In it are about ten coarse hairs. Little white dots move among the hairs. What are they? A creepy sensation seeps into my psyche.These are pubic hairs and the dots are crab lice! College fraternities are brotherhoods of experimenters. This frat brother had gone to Bourbon Street to experiment and had gotten into trouble.

    A similar event occurred at the office twenty years...

  31. 24 WILD VIRGINS
    (pp. 211-220)

    The B-17 Flying Fortress of World War II vintage looked ominous. Undefeated by war and years of service, it roared aggressively sitting on the runway. Engines revving, it took on the last of its cargo through open bomb bay doors. With a shudder and rattle, the plane took off in a cloud of dust. Its mission was to cross the border and to drop its “bombs” over a densely populated area. Was this a mission during World War II? No, the targeted population was—cows. Herds of cattle peacefully munching on rich Texas grass and, across the Rio Grande, on...

  32. INEXPLICABLE BEHAVIOR: SOME RELATIONSHIPS ARE MORE INTIMATE THAN OTHERS
    (pp. 221-223)

    Relationships are as unique as the partners. Some are short-lived; some so intense that both partners can’t live without one another. Sometimes each partner has several relationships over time.

    Why is there such variability, so many unique associations? How have these complex interactions evolved? Symbionts, in their dependent relationships, can’t realize that they are “helping” each other to survive—or causing harm to the host. Nothing in the nonmammalian world can be ascribed to benevolence or malevolence. Purely functional, each behavior has evolved over eons to become a pinnacle balanced on precursors—a pyramid of ever-closer ancestral intimacies aimed at...

  33. 25 TOPSY-TURVY WORLDS
    (pp. 224-234)

    Bright green hemispheres three feet across are jumbled together with craggy hillocks, columns, flat bumpy plates, and stony fingers, all crowding the sunlit shallows of the coral reef. At the crest of the reef, orange elkhorn corals,Acropora palmata, break the force of the wind-driven ocean waves into white, bubbly foam and spray. The shockingly bright sunlight illuminates a gorgeous, colorful panorama. Soon the shallows slope into wide plains of orange-green staghorns and ten-foot-high bright green hillocks of mountain coral covered with multicolored sponges.³⁰

    The scene dims as shadows of clouds dull the bright colors, but the fluffy cotton puffs...

  34. 26 A DAY IN THE CARIBBEAN
    (pp. 235-244)

    The enormous turtle paddles by in what seems to be an endless circle. Its lidless eye glares at me, but although a few feet away, its interest is focused on the blurry distance. It seems oblivious as I touch the three-foot-wide shiny shell. Three nickel-size camouflaged conical projections jut almost imperceptibly from the carapace, scarcely visible except to my expectant eye. These are turtle barnacles, destined to spend their lives carried from place to place on the back of their ever-moving universe. “Why are they adapted only to life on a turtle’s back?” I mused. Then I realized that it...

  35. 27 TIT, TIT, TITTIE—CUCKOO
    (pp. 245-250)

    “Today’s lecture will cover the subject ‘tits.’”

    Judging by the smirks and sidelong glances of the hormone-infused students, the class is interested. How to keep them involved?

    “And cuckoos.” A few of the brightest realize I am talking about birds and promptly go to sleep. The others maintain their smirks a little longer.

    The British have a penchant for coining peculiar words. Take, for example, “bangers and mash” (sausages and potatoes) or “loo” (bathroom). Oddly, they call small birds of the genusParustits. A larger bird,Clamator glandarius, with a mellifluous call is a cuckoo.* The two species are...

  36. 28 THE GAME OF LIFE: NAME THAT CATEGORY
    (pp. 251-256)

    Can you decide which of the following symbiotic relationships is parasitism, commensalism, or mutualism?

    Consider the relationship between the hollow, tubelike Venus’ flower basket glass sponge,Euplectella, and its aptly named shrimp inhabitant,Spongicola.When its cellular component is removed, the sponge appears to be an exquisitely woven cylinder of glass fibers. Through the network of large and small openings, a pair of shrimps can be seen. They entered as a tiny couple able to squeeze through the sponge’s larger pores. Feeding on plankton swept into the central chamber of the sponge, the couple grows and prospers until too large...

  37. 29 PAEAN OF PRAISE
    (pp. 257-267)

    I reach into the carton, newly arrived from the biological supply house, trying to keep the flaps closed with my elbow. The contents feel cold and slimy. I grasp blindly. My unseen prey squirms in my hand. I withdraw it. Uncomfortable, I move too quickly and my elbow no longer presses on the flap. It swings open from staccato blows from underneath. Out pops a horde of leopard-spotted frogs. I grab at them futilely, one hand holding a slimy frog intent on escaping my grip. It escapes. Frogs are leaping everywhere, bouncing off walls, cabinets, prep tables. I yell for...

  38. 30 TIPS FOR TRAVELERS
    (pp. 268-276)

    I have mentioned that many physicians (except specialists in tropical medicine) are not trained to diagnose parasitological diseases. In most cases they treat the symptoms and allow the parasitemia to take its course. In this era of international travel, the potential patient should be aware of the possibility of an exotic infection. Of course this would lead to a flood of recent returnees from Africa, South America, and East Asia bringing self-diagnoses to harried internists, a case of a little knowledge going too far.

    I offer these examples from my own experience:

    Soon after returning from a rain forest, I...

  39. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 277-280)

    Why do little old Jewish women suffer from huge tapeworms? Why do little Egyptian boys produce orange urine? What bad things can come from a kiss (from a big black bug) and a bite (from a louse)? If you have been amused and affected by this book, it will have achieved its putative purpose. But there are deeper issues. Hopefully you were drawn beyond your superficial curiosity.

    The science in this book may have seemed daunting. After all, you were challenged by the intricacies of host-parasite relationships, the ecology and evolution of parasites, and immunological dilemmas. But if you have...

  40. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 281-292)
  41. SELECTED REFERENCES
    (pp. 293-294)
  42. ILLUSTRATION SOURCES
    (pp. 295-296)
  43. INDEX
    (pp. 297-302)