Trichinosis is caused by any species belonging to the Trichinella parasite. Specifically, common species of Trichinella are found in bears and walruses.
Here is an example of a real outbreak:
Four hunters traveled to a camp near Bethel, Alaska to hunt for bears. After killing a bear, they fried and ate its meat, and two to four weeks later, they all began to experience the standard symptoms. Trichinella larvae cysts were detected in the bear meat by the DEC Laboratory. It’s assumed that the quick frying method the hunters used was not enough to kill the parasites.
There are three phases to a Trichinosis infection.
Once Trichinella cysts are consumed, they develop into adult worms in the small intestine. This typically takes about five days. Pregnant females will then produce 500-1500 that make their way through the peripheral circulation and encyst the striated muscle.
In only a week’s time after someone consumes the infected meat, patients can develop gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain. As the larvae began to move, fever, rash, myalgia and periorbital edema may be experienced. Unfortunately, for everyone, encysted larvae can remain viable for years. The severity of the illness is dependent on the dose.
There is treatment that can be done for Trichinosis, though cooking your bear meat thoroughly is a great way to ensure you do not get sick. Cases can be mildly unpleasant to severely, fatally damaging. Typically, if the infection is caught early enough (this is rare), the side effect’s can be reduced.
A few things to remember:
1) Healthcare providers should consider trichinosis to be in any patient with typical gastrointestinal symptoms, and have recently consumed bear or walrus meat.
2) Alaskan bear and walrus meat is not cold-resistent. Simply freezing the meat will not get rid of the larvae cysts.
3) Most cases of trichinosis involve multiple people.