, also called trichinellosis
, or trichiniasis
, is a parasitic disease
caused by eating raw or undercooked pork
and wild game
infected with the larvae
of a species of roundworm Trichinella spiralis
, commonly called the trichina worm. The few cases in the United States are mostly the result of eating undercooked game, bear meat, or home reared pigs. It is most common in the developing world and where pigs are commonly fed raw garbage.
Signs and symptoms
Trichinosis initially involves the intestines. Within 1-2 days of contagion, symptoms such as nausea
, and diarrhea
appear; the severity of these symptoms depends on the extent of the infection. Later on, as the worms encyst in different parts of the human body, other manifestations of the disease may appear, such as headache
, eye swelling
, joint pain
and muscle pain
, and itching
Most symptoms subside within a few years. The most dangerous case is worms entering the central nervous system. They cannot survive there, but they may cause enough damage to produce serious neurological deficits (such as ataxia or respiratory paralysis), and even death.
The worm can infect any species of mammal that consumes its encysted larval
stages. When an 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 produce larvae, which break through the intestinal wall and travel through the lymphatic system to the circulatory system to find a suitable cell. Larvae can penetrate any cell, but can only survive in skeletal muscle
. Within a muscle cell, the worms curl up and direct the cell functioning much as a virus does. The cell is now called a nurse cell
. Soon, a net of blood vessels surround the nurse cell, providing added nutrition for the larva inside.
A blood test
or muscle biopsy
can identify trichinosis. Stool studies can identify adult worms, with females being about 3 mm long and males about half that size.
Symptoms can be treated with aspirin
can kill adult worms in the intestine; however, there is no treatment that kills the larva.
Trichinosis was known as early as 1835
to have been caused by a parasite, but the mechanism of infection was unclear at the time. It was not until a decade later that American
scientist Joseph Leidy
pinpointed undercooked meat as the primary vector for the parasite, and not until two decades afterwards that this hypothesis was fully accepted by the scientific community
Infection was once very common, but is now rare in the developed world. From 1997 to 2001, an annual average of 12 cases per year were reported in the United States. The number of cases has decreased because of legislation prohibiting the feeding of raw meat garbage to hogs, increased commercial and home freezing of pork, and the public awareness of the danger of eating raw or undercooked pork products.
In the developing world, most infections are associated with undercooked pork. For example, in Thailand, between 200 and 600 cases are reported annually around the Thai New Year. In parts of Eastern Europe, the WHO (World Health Organization) reports that some swine herds have trichinosis infection rates above 50%, and there are correspondingly large numbers of human infections
It has been suggested that trichinosis may be one of several factors that led to religious prohibitions in Islam, Judaism, etc. against eating pork products, such as in the kashrut and dhabiĥa halal dietary laws. The medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides advocated such a theory in his Guide for the Perplexed. This topic is controversial.
International Commission on trichinellosis
The International Commission on Trichinellosis
(ICT) was created in 1958 in Budapest and is aiming to exchange information on the biology, the physiopathology, the epidemiology, the immunology, and the clinical aspects of trichinellosis in humans and animals. Prevention is a primary goal. Since the creation of the ICT, its members (more than 110 from 46 countries) have regularly gathered and worked together during meetings held every 4 years : the International Conference on Trichinellosis
- Cooking meat products to an internal temperature of 165 °F (74 °C) for a minimum of 15 seconds.
- Cooking pork to a uniform internal temperature of at least 144 °F (62.2 °C), per US FDA Title 9 section 318.10. It is prudent to use a margin of error to allow for variation in internal temperature and error in the thermometer.
- Freezing pork less than 6 inches thick for 20 days at 5 °F (−15 °C) or three days at −4 °F (−20 °C) kills larval worms.
- Cooking wild game meat thoroughly. Freezing wild game meats, unlike freezing pork products, even for long periods of time, may not effectively kill all worms. This is because the species of trichinella that typically infects wild game is more resistant to freezing than the species that infects pigs.
- Cooking all meat fed to pigs or other wild animals.
- Keeping pigs in clean pens with floors that can be washed (such as concrete). This is standard in Germany, where raw pork is a common delicacy and trichinosis is rarer than in the U.S.
- Not allowing hogs to eat uncooked carcasses of other animals, including rats, which may be infected with trichinosis.
- Cleaning meat grinders thoroughly when preparing ground meats.
- Control and destruction of meat containing trichinae, e.g., removal and proper disposal of porcine diaphragms prior to public sale of meat.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes the following recommendation: "Curing (salting), drying, smoking, or microwaving meat does not consistently kill infective worms.
However, under controlled commercial food processing conditions some of these methods are considered effective by the United States Department of Agriculture.