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Nov. 21, 2022
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What is trichinellosis?
Trichinellosis, also called trichinosis, is caused by eating raw or undercooked meat of animals infected with the larvae of a species of worm called Trichinella. Infection occurs commonly in certain wild carnivorous (meat-eating) animals such as bear or cougar, or omnivorous (meat and plant-eating) animals such as domestic pigs or wild boar.
What are the symptoms of a trichinellosis infection?
The signs, symptoms, severity and duration of trichinellosis vary. Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, fever, and abdominal discomfort are often the first symptoms of trichinellosis. Headaches, fevers, chills, cough, swelling of the face and eyes, aching joints and muscle pains, itchy skin, diarrhea, or constipation may follow the first symptoms. If the infection is heavy, patients may experience difficulty coordinating movements, and have heart and breathing problems. In severe cases, death can occur.
For mild to moderate infections, most symptoms subside within a few months. Fatigue, weakness, muscle pain, and diarrhea may last for months.
How soon after infection will symptoms appear?
Abdominal symptoms can occur 1 to 2 days after infection. Further symptoms usually start 2 to 8 weeks after eating contaminated meat. Symptoms may range from very mild to severe and relate to the number of infectious worms consumed in meat. Often, mild cases of trichinellosis are never specifically diagnosed and are assumed to be the flu or other common illnesses.
How does infection occur in humans and animals?
When a human or animal eats meat that contains infective Trichinella cysts, the acid in the stomach dissolves the hard covering of the cyst and releases the worms. The worms pass into the small intestine and, in 1-2 days, become mature. After mating, adult females lay eggs. Eggs develop into immature worms, travel through the arteries, and are transported to muscles. Within the muscles, the worms curl into a ball and encyst (become enclosed in a capsule). The life cycle repeats when meat containing these encysted worms is consumed by another human or animal.
Am I at risk for trichinellosis?
If you eat raw or undercooked meats, particularly pork, bear, wild feline (such as a cougar), fox, dog, wolf, horse, seal, or walrus, you are at risk for trichinellosis.
Can I spread trichinellosis to others?
No. Infection can only occur by eating raw or undercooked meat containing Trichinella worms.
What should I do if I think I have trichinellosis?
See your health care provider who can order tests and treat symptoms of trichinellosis infection. If you have eaten raw or undercooked meat, you should tell your health care provider.
How is trichinellosis infection diagnosed?
A blood test or muscle biopsy can show if you have trichinellosis.
How is trichinellosis infection treated?
Several safe and effective prescription drugs are available to treat trichinellosis. Treatment should begin as soon as possible and the decision to treat is based upon symptoms, exposure to raw or undercooked meat, and laboratory test results.
Is trichinellosis common in the United States?
Infection was once very common and usually caused by ingestion of undercooked pork. However, infection is now relatively rare. During 1997-2001, an average of 12 cases per year were reported. The number of cases has decreased because of legislation prohibiting the feeding of raw-meat garbage to hogs, commercial and home freezing of pork, and the public awareness of the danger of eating raw or undercooked pork products. Cases are less commonly associated with pork products and more often associated with eating raw or undercooked wild game meats.
How can I prevent trichinellosis?
• One way to prevent trichinellosis is to cook meat to safe temperatures. A food thermometer should be used to measure the internal temperature of cooked meat. Do not sample meat until it is cooked. USDA recommends the following for meat preparation.
For Whole Cuts of Meat (excluding poultry)
-- Cook to at least 145° F (63° C) as measured with a food thermometer placed in the thickest part of the meat, then allow the meat to rest* for three minutes before carving or consuming.
For Ground Meat (excluding poultry)
-- Cook to at least 160° F (71° C); ground meats do not require a rest* time.
For All Poultry (whole cuts and ground)
-- Cook to at least 165° F (74° C), and for whole poultry allow the meat to rest* for three minutes before carving or consuming.
*According to USDA, "A 'rest time' is the amount of time the product remains at the final temperature, after it has been removed from a grill, oven, or other heat source. During the three minutes after meat is removed from the heat source, its temperature remains constant or continues to rise, which destroys pathogens."
More on: safe food handling
• Curing (salting), drying, smoking, or microwaving meat alone does not consistently kill infective worms; homemade jerky and sausage were the cause of many cases of trichinellosis reported to CDC in recent years.
• Freeze pork less than 6 inches thick for 20 days at 5°F (-15°C) to kill any worms.
• Freezing wild game meats, unlike freezing pork products, may not effectively kill all worms because some worm species that infect wild game animals are freeze-resistant.
• Clean meat grinders thoroughly after each use.
To help prevent Trichinella infection in animal populations, do not allow pigs or wild animals to eat uncooked meat, scraps, or carcasses of any animals, including rats, which may be infected with Trichinella.
This information is not meant to be used for self-diagnosis or as a substitute for consultation with a health care provider. If you have any questions about the disease described above or think that you may have a parasitic infection, consult a health care provider.
This information was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Division of Parasitic Diseases. Fact Sheet. Trichinellosis. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/trichinellosis/gen_info/faqs.html. Accessed January 24, 2014.
The information in this document is for general educational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for personalized professional advice. Although the information was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, MedLink Corporation, its representatives, and the providers of the information do not guarantee its accuracy and disclaim responsibility for adverse consequences resulting from its use. For further information, consult a physician and the organization referred to herein.