Last Reviewed: December 2016

What is trichinosis?

Trichinosis is a food-borne disease caused by a microscopic parasite called Trichinella. People can get this disease by eating raw or undercooked meat from animals infected with the parasite. Often these infected meats come from wild game, such as bear, or pork products.

Who gets trichinosis?

Anyone who eats raw or undercooked meat from infected animals can develop trichinosis. Most cases come from consuming undercooked wild game meat, such as bear, while some other cases come from eating pork products. The parasite is not found in domestic pigs raised in confinement, but can be found in pigs raised outdoors in close contact with wildlife and rodents. Trichinosis infection is relatively rare in the United States.

How is trichinosis spread?

Animals such as pigs, dogs, cats, rats, and many wild animals (including fox, wolf, and polar bear) may carry the parasite. When humans eat infected pork or wild game that has not been properly cooked, they become infected. Person-to-person spread does not occur.

What are the symptoms of trichinosis and when do they appear?

Stomach symptoms tend to appear 1-2 days after eating infected meat. These symptoms usually include diarrhea (loose stool/poop), nausea (feeling of sickness in the stomach), fatigue, and stomach pain. Other symptoms may appear 2-8 weeks after infection and may include fever, headaches, chills, muscle soreness, pain and swelling around the eyes. The length and severity of symptoms varies depending upon the number of parasites in the meat and the amount eaten. Although rare, complications can develop and affect the heart, brain, and lungs; these complications may be fatal.

How is trichinosis diagnosed?

Trichinosis is diagnosed when an individual has the symptoms, has a positive blood test for the parasite Trichinella, and has eaten raw or undercooked pork or wild game meat. Occasionally trichinosis is diagnosed by examining small pieces of the patient's muscle under the microscope.

What is the treatment for trichinosis?

Antiparasitic medicines called mebendazole and albendazole are drug options for treatment. These drugs kill the adult parasite, preventing further release of infected larvae and stopping the spread of infection within a person.

What can be done to prevent the spread of trichinosis?

The best prevention is to make sure that pork products are properly cooked. Cook meat to 145° F 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.