Trichinosis is a disease that is caused by roundworm infection, where the roundworm parasites use our body as a host to live and reproduce. These parasites more likely affect carnivorous animals such as foxes, bears, and even omnivorous animals such as wild boars and domestic pigs. This infection makes its way into our bodies through raw or undercooked animal meat that is infected with roundworm larvae.
What is Trichinosis?
It usually occurs in individuals who are fond of eating exotic undercooked meat, as raw or improperly cooked meat may contain Trichinella (roundworm) larvae. Once consumed, the larvae tend to mature into adult worms in our body’s small intestine in a week. Later, adult worms reproduce and travel through the various tissues of our body.
This disease can be treated with the help of medication and your physician’s guidance, although it comes with its own complications. You can also prevent trichinosis by taking certain measures.
What are the Symptoms of Trichinosis?
Trichinosis symptoms may vary, depending on the stage of infection, including the number of invading larvae, tissues invaded and general physical condition of an individual. A majority of people have no symptoms.
trichinosis symptoms occur in two stages
Stage 1: Intestinal infection develops 1-2 days after consuming contaminated meat. Symptoms include:
Stage 2: Symptoms from larval invasion of muscles generally start after about 7 – 15 days. Symptoms include:
- Muscle pain and tenderness
- Weakness, fever
- Swelling of the face, mainly around the eyes
Often, the pain is most pronounced in the muscles used to chew, swallow, breathe and speak. A non-itching rash that may develop. In few individuals, the whites of their eyes become red. Their eyes hurt and become sensitive to bright light.
If many larvae are present, the heart, brain, and lungs may become inflamed. Heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms, seizures, and severe breathing problems may result. Death can occur but is rare. Without treatment, most trichinosis symptoms disappear by the third month of infection, although vague muscle pain and fatigue can persist longe
What causes Trichinosis?
The Trichinella or the roundworm larvae cause trichinosis. This parasitic worm is mostly found in animals that consume meat, also known as carnivorous animals. Pigs are said to be one of the most common hosts for this parasite.
The Trichinella roundworm is also found in wild boars, foxes, and bears. These animals can also become infected with Trichinella if they feed on an infected animal or even garbage that consists of infected meat pieces.
Humans get affected by Trichinosis when they consume raw or uncooked meat from an animal that is already infected with Trichinella larvae. Once our body digests this parasite, the stomach acid will start dissolving the cyst of the larvae; this cyst is the protective capsule that surrounds the larvae. As soon as the cyst is dissolved, that larvae will soon enter the intestine and mature into adult worms to reproduce and spread all over our body, including the muscles.
Female adult worms will then release their larvae into our bloodstream, migrating them through the blood vessels into our muscles. And once those worms are inside our muscles, they will treat the muscular tissues as their host and can live in them for a long time, making your physical condition weaker.
When should I See the Doctor for Trichinosis?
If there are no symptoms of Trichinosis and it is a mild case, there may not be anything to worry about.
If you are suffering from full-fledged symptoms, muscle pain, and swelling after consuming an infected animal meat — like pork or wild-animal meat — you should consult your doctor immediately and seek medical attention to get yourself treated.
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How to Prevent Trichinosis?
Trichinosis is easy to avoid and prevent if you follow the below measures carefully. So, here are the best ways to keep away from this disease:
- Avoid eating horse, bear, pig, or walrus meat.
- Clean your utensils properly before starting to cook
- It is recommended to use a thermometer and check the temperature of the meat
- Cook ground meat and wild animals at least at 1600F (710C)
- Cook the whole cuts of the animal meat at least at 1450F (630C)
- Cook your poultry at a minimum of 1650F (740C)
- If cooking pork, make sure to freeze in 6-inch slice form for at least 20 days at 50F (150C) to make sure that you have killed all the worms
- Clean the meat grinders properly
- Wash your hands properly and thoroughly after you handle or touch raw meat.
How to Treat Trichinosis?
Trichinosis is not a serious illness. More likely, it tends to get cured on its own. But you should monitor the signs and symptoms.
If you are suffering from fatigue, mild pain, weakness, or diarrhoea that lasts for a few weeks or months, immediately consult a doctor to get yourself the required treatment for it. Especially, if the symptoms are not subsiding on their own.
Here are a few treatments that your doctor may recommend for you to improve your condition:
- Pain killers
As soon as the larvae enter your muscle, you may start facing muscle pain. To find relief from it, the doctor may give you pain killers. More likely, the larvae cysts in your muscles will calcify, which will ultimately result in their destruction, ending the muscle aches and fatigue.
- Antiparasitic Medicines
The treatment commonly recommended involves taking anti-parasitic medication. If the Trichinella parasite is discovered in the initial stages, these medicines will ensure the elimination of all the worms and larvae in your intestine, before they enter your muscles.
But if the disease has already entered your muscles, the antiparasitic medicines may not be that effective. In such a scenario, your doctor will prescribe you medications that will work on your central nervous system as well.
In some cases of Trichinosis, allergic reactions result when the parasite enters the muscle tissues. Alternatively, the dying larvae may release unwanted chemicals in your muscle tissue; this will also cause allergies. Your doctor will prescribe you medicines that will take care of and control the inflammation in these circumstances.
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Trichinosis is a disease caused due to consumption of unhygienic food. Therefore, you should be careful of following certain guidelines and methods when you consume/cook pork and other exotic meats. It is important to practice food safety and ensure that you take care of the hygiene aspects to avoid foodborne illnesses like Trichinosis.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- Am I at risk of contracting Trichinosis?
Usually, a person who eats raw or undercooked meats is more at risk of Trichinosis. So, if you consume such food, you may be at risk of trichinosis.
- Is Trichinosis contagious? Can I spread it to others?
No, this infection will only occur if you eat raw or undercooked meat that already consists of Trichinella worms. Since the causative agent resides in your tissues, you are unlikely to spread it to others. Also, it does not spread by touch.
- What am I supposed to do if I feel I am suffering from Trichinosis?
If you experience symptoms of Trichinosis, immediately pay a visit to your general physician. The doctor will confirm the diagnosis if you are infected by Trichinella. The doctor will also help you understand how long it will take to get well and how serious your condition is.
- How can Trichinosis be diagnosed?
A trichinellosis infection can be diagnosed with the help of blood tests and muscle biopsy. Consult your doctor for more information.
- Is Trichinosis treatable?
There are many drugs and prescriptions available to treat trichinosis and your physician will be the best judge to recommend those medications. The medication will completely depend on how severe your condition is.