What Is Trichinosis?
Trichinosis, also known as trichinellosis, is a disease caused by
a species of roundworm called Trichinella. These parasitic roundworms are found in animals that eat meat,
- wild boars
You can contract trichinosis if you eat raw or undercooked meat
from an animal infected with Trichinella. The most common offending agent for humans is pork meat. The
roundworm begins its life cycle in the intestines and then lodges itself in the
muscles, causing pain and discomfort.
According to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, approximately 10,000 cases of trichinosis are
diagnosed every year around the world. Trichinosis is fairly rare in the United
States since there are strict laws for meat processing and animal feed. In fact,
an average of only 400 trichinosis cases are reported each year in the United
States. The disease is most commonly seen in rural areas.
What Are the Symptoms of Trichinosis?
When you first become infected, you may or may not have any
symptoms. However, within one week of the initial infection, the larvae will
enter your muscle tissue. Once this happens, the symptoms usually become
Trichinosis symptoms that may occur while the larvae are in your
- abdominal cramps
- fatigue or low energy
Trichinosis symptoms that may occur after the larvae enter your
muscle tissue include:
- muscle aches and pains
- a high fever
- facial swelling
- sensitivity to light
- persistent eye infections
- unexplained rashes
What Causes Trichinosis?
Trichinosis is caused by the larvae of the Trichinella roundworm.
The parasitic worm is often found in animals that eat meat. Pigs are one of the
most common carriers of this parasite. The Trichinella
roundworm is also commonly found in bears, foxes, and wild boars. Animals can
become infected with Trichinella when
they feed on other infected animals or on garbage containing infected meat
Humans can contract trichinosis when they eat raw or undercooked
meat of an animal infected with Trichinella larvae. After the parasites
are ingested, the acid in the stomach dissolves the cyst, which is the
protective capsule surrounding the larvae. When the hard covering of the cyst
is dissolved, the larvae enter the intestine, where they mature into adult
worms and reproduce. The female worms then release their larvae into the
bloodstream, allowing them to migrate through the blood vessels and into the
muscles. Once they’re in the muscles, the worms encapsulate into the muscle
tissues, where they can live for an extended period.
How Is Trichinosis Diagnosed?
Your doctor may be able to diagnose trichinosis by taking your
medical history and asking you about your symptoms. They may also perform certain
diagnostic tests to determine whether there any larvae present in your system.
Your doctor may take a sample of your blood and test it for signs
of trichinosis. Elevated levels of white blood cells and the presence of
antibodies against the parasite may indicate a Trichinella infection.
Your doctor may also
perform a muscle biopsy if the blood test results are inconclusive. During a
muscle biopsy, your doctor will remove a small piece of muscle tissue
and analyze it for the presence of Trichinella
How Is Trichinosis Treated?
Trichinosis doesn’t always require treatment. The infection may
resolve without treatment within several months after the onset of symptoms.
However, the condition is often treated with medications to help manage
symptoms and to prevent complications from developing. Your doctor may
prescribe antiparasitic medication (albendazole
or mebendazole usually) to treat the infection, steroids to help control
inflammation, and pain medication for muscle aches.
What Are the Potential Complications of Trichinosis?
In rare cases, a severe
Trichinella infection could lead to the following complications:
- myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart
- encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain
- meningitis, which is an inflammation of the
membranes around the brain and spinal cord
- bronchopneumonia, which is an inflammation of the
lungs and airways
- nephritis, which is a condition that causes the kidney
to become inflamed
- pneumonia, which is a lung infection that causes
the air sacs in the lungs to become inflamed
- sinusitis, which is a sinus infection that
causes the sinuses and nasal passages to become inflamed
Though some of these conditions can be serious, they’re often
detected during diagnostic testing, so treatment can be received fairly
What Is the Outlook for People with Trichinosis?
The outlook for people with trichinosis is generally good. Trichinosis
usually isn't a serious condition and may go away without treatment within a
few months. However, receiving prompt treatment can speed up your recovery and
prevent complications. This can improve your outlook.
Certain symptoms may linger for an extended period, even after
treatment. Symptoms that may persist include fatigue, mild muscle pain, and
diarrhea. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about symptoms you may
be continuously experiencing after treatment.
How Can Trichinosis Be Prevented?
The best way to prevent trichinosis is to prepare food properly. Here
are some tips to follow when cooking meat:
- Use a meat thermometer.
- Don’t sample meat until it’s cooked.
- Cook ground meat and wild game to at least 160°F
- Cook whole cuts of meat to at least 145°F
- Cook poultry to at least 165°F (74°C).
- Freeze pork less than 6 inches thick for 20 days
at 5°F (-15°C) to kill any worms.
- Avoid eating walrus, horse, or bear meat.
- Thoroughly clean any utensils that touch meat.
- Clean meat grinders thoroughly.
- Wash hands thoroughly after handling raw meat.
To prevent a Trichinella infection
among animals, don’t allow pigs or wild animals to eat the undercooked meat, scraps,
or carcasses of animals that may be infected with Trichinella larvae.