Trichinosis

Definition

Trichinosis is an infection with the roundworm Trichinella spiralis.

Causes

Trichinosis is a disease caused by eating meat that has not been thoroughly cooked and contains cysts (larvae, or immature worms) of Trichinella spiralis. Trichinella spiralis can be found in pork, bear, walrus, fox, rat, horse, and lion.

Wild animals, especially carnivores (meat eaters) or omnivores (animals that eat both meat and plants), should be considered possible sources of roundworm disease. Domestic meat animals raised specifically for eating under United States Department of Agriculture (government) guidelines and inspection can be considered safe. For this reason, trichinosis is rare in the United States, but it is a common infection worldwide.

When a person eats meat from an infected animal, trichinella cysts break open in the intestine and grow into adult roundworms. The roundworms produce other worms that move through the gut wall and into the bloodstream. The worms invade muscle tissues, including the heart and diaphragm (the breathing muscle under the lungs). They can also infect the lungs and brain. The cysts remain alive for years.

Symptoms

Symptoms of trichinosis include:

Exams and Tests

Tests to diagnose this condition include:

Treatment

Medicines can be used to treat infections in the intestines, though mild infection does not usually need treatment. Pain medicine can help relieve muscle soreness after the larvae have invaded the muscles.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most people with trichinosis have no symptoms and the infection goes away by itself. More severe infections may be difficult to treat, especially if the lungs, heart, or brain is involved.

Possible Complications

Possible complications include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of trichinosis and you recently ate undercooked or raw meat that might have been contaminated.

Prevention

Pork and meat from wild animals should be cooked until well done (no traces of pink). Freezing pork at subzero temperatures (5°F, or -15°C, or colder) for 3 to 4 weeks will kill the worms. Freezing wild game meat does not always kill the worms. Smoking, salting, and drying meat are also not reliable methods of killing the worms.


Review Date: 11/14/2016
Reviewed By: Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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