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What is Trichinellosis?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 April 2018
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Trichinellosis is another name for trichinosis. Both terms refer to a parasitic infection that can occur when humans eat infected pork or many types of game meat that are not fully cooked. Pigs and certain game meat can harbor the Trichinella worm, which the human digestive system frees from its protective casing so that it can roam the human body and do considerable damage, if not treated. Treatment is vital, as without it, some people may die from this infection.

Though relatively rare in places like the US, trichinellosis still may occur with greater frequency in developing parts of the world. The rarity of cases in developed areas is no reason for complacency. It is absolutely essential that people cook game meats and any form of pork to safe temperatures. It’s suggested the Trichinella worm cannot withstand temperatures of 170 degrees F (76.67 degrees C)

The reason that trichinellosis must be taken seriously is because it can have such devastating effects on the body. The illness may start within about 48 hours after ingestion of Trichinella worm “cysts,” much like food poisoning or stomach flu with people having diarrhea and/or vomiting, stomach pain, fever and overwhelming tiredness. This progresses to higher fever, muscle and joint aches and pains, coughing and additional symptoms like uncomfortable skin itches, and eye discomfort and inflammation.

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In some cases, trichinellosis resolves without treatment, but it may take several months to fully run its course. Avoiding treatment is not wise, though, because the disease doesn’t always resolve. Worm infestation may become so severe that it begins to damage several body systems like the heart, brain, and lungs. When these symptoms present, trichinosis is potentially life threatening.

Given the potential for extreme infection and possibility of fatality, it is vital to treat trichinellosis right away. If people have these symptoms a day or two after eating pork or any form of wild game, they need to see a doctor. Though the illness can be devastating, if treated immediately, it usually responds very well. Standard treatment is to give medications called anti-parasitics. These kill any offending worms, and then they are shed through the body. Treatment may sometimes take a month or more, especially if infection is profuse.

One thing people do not have to worry about is passing this illness onto others. With many types of food poisoning or parasitic infection, it’s very easy to infect others by things like improper handwashing techniques. It should be noted that trichinellosis cannot move from human host to human host and has to be passed by ingestion of the Trichinella worm in sources like pork or wild game. This is no reason, though, to forget to wash the hands carefully after bathroom use.

It is interesting that this condition results from the way the body acts when it ingests the Trichinella parasite. The worms enter the body as cysts, and can’t act on the body because they are trapped. Yet acid in the human digestive system frees the worms, and they are then free to move to different areas of the body and begin to start mating and egg-laying. Ingestion of a greater amount of cysts usually corresponds to more severe infection because there are that many more worms in the body to reproduce quickly.

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