What's Eating You? People and Parasites

What's Eating You? People and Parasites

What's Eating You? People and Parasites

What's Eating You? People and Parasites


In What'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.


Let's get this straight. I do not feel that I should have deliberately infected myself to enhance my teaching skills. My infections were accidental. the era of self-sacrifice is over. It is told that the famous German pathologist Theodor Bilharz placed some cercariae (the infective form of schistosomiasis) on his stomach and took notes as they burrowed through his skin, eventually to lodge in his liver and lower mesenteric veins. This parasite is found in Egypt and the disease it causes is named after him, bilharziasis (bilharzia). I had no such heroic intentions when I suffered through amebic dysentery in Egypt or when I “gave birth” to a worm the length and thickness of a pencil, which I picked up in Israel, but their stories certainly enhance and enliven my lectures.

This is a book of stories about parasites. Some stories describe my own experiences, some have been told to me. a thread runs through them: entwined in the twists and turns of dna are a dual set of the miraculous mechanisms of evolution. Why a dual set? the evolutionary steps of the host are matched by those of its parasites in a grim dance of death. Should one species make a misstep, it becomes extinct. Should the parasite become so harmful that it kills its host, the host species disappears; should the host evolve a perfect defense against the parasite, the parasite becomes extinct. in effect, there is an uncomfortable evolutionary accommodation between the partners in this intimate interrelationship.

Evolution can be defined as a series of processes that lead to more and more successful adaptations of a species to its environment. To elucidate these adaptations it is often necessary for the parasitologist to wallow in feces.

As in all evolutionary/ecological endeavors, one must examine habitats to clarify trophic relationships. Unfortunately, these habitats are the guts of host animals—and their effluvia. Stories herein describe . . .

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