What is Trichinella?
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 or omnivorous (meat and plant-eating) animals such as domestic pigs. Learn more!
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.
Symptoms of trichinosis
Abdominal symptoms can occur 1-2 days after infection. Further symptoms usually start 2-8 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.
Am I at risk for trichinellosis?
If you eat raw or undercooked meats particularly bear, pork, wild feline (such as a cougar), fox, dog, wolf, horse, seal, or walrus, you are at risk for trichinellosis.
Infection can only occur by eating raw or undercooked meat containing Trichinella worms. It cannot be passed to others.
If you think you 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.
Diagnosis & Treatment
A blood test or muscle biopsy can show if you have trichinellosis.
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 trichinosis common in the United States?
Infection used to be more common and was usually caused by ingestion of undercooked pork. However, infection is now relatively rare. During 2008–2010, 20 cases were reported per year on average. The number of cases decreased beginning in the mid-20th century 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.
The best 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:
Foods are fully cooked when they reach these minimum internal temperatures
- For Whole Cuts of Meat (excluding poultry and wild game): 145° F (63° C) as measured with a food thermometer placed in the thickest part of the meat, and let meat *rest 3 minutes before carving or consuming.
- For Whole Cuts of Poultry: 165° F (74° C), and let meat *rest 3 minutes before carving or consuming.
- For Ground Poultry: 165° F (74° C).
- For Ground Meat (excluding poultry and wild game): 160° F (72° C).
- For Wild Game (whole cuts and ground): 160° F (72° C).
*Letting whole cuts of meat “rest” refers to the amount of time the product remains at the final temperature, after it has been removed from a grill, oven, or other heat source. When meat is removed from the heat source, for 3 minutes its temperature remains constant, or continues to rise, which destroys pathogens.
- 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.
Photo courtesy of CDC