Trichinosis (Food Poisoning)
What is trichinosis?
Trichinosis is a food-borne disease that is caused by eating raw or undercooked meats, particularly pork products infested with the larvae of a species of worm called trichinella spiralis. Digestion breaks down the hard outside shell of the larvae, freeing the mature worms. The worms then produce larvae which take up residence in body tissues, especially muscle. Anyone is susceptible, regardless of age or health status. Trichinosis is also called trichinellosis.
Symptoms and Causes
What causes trichinosis?
The most common causes of trichinosis are:
- Eating raw or undercooked pork products
- Eating improperly stored meats
- Unclean kitchen utensils used to prepare meats
- Eating raw or undercooked meat from wild animals, such as boar, bear or walrus, that are infected
What are the symptoms of trichinosis?
Symptoms of trichinosis range from very mild to severe and can include:
Additional symptoms that may develop include:
- Profuse sweating
- Extreme tiredness
In severe cases, trichinosis can cause:
- Difficulty coordinating movements
- Inflammation of the heart muscles
- Difficulty while breathing
These symptoms can last from 5 to 45 days, but they usually begin to appear 10 to 14 days after consuming the infected meat. Milder cases of trichinosis are often mistaken for the flu or other common illnesses. In extreme cases, trichinosis may result in death.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is trichinosis diagnosed?
Tests of stool samples do not work to diagnose this condition. Your doctor might decide you have trichinosis initially on the basis of your symptoms and on blood tests showing high levels of eosinophils, a type of white blood cell. Antibodies to trichinella spiralis do not show up initially, but later blood tests, often repeated, will find the antibodies and confirm the diagnosis.
In very rare cases, doctors might recommend a biopsy of tissue to confirm the diagnosis.
Management and Treatment
What is the treatment for trichinosis?
If you have eaten raw or undercooked meat and show symptoms of trichinosis, you should contact your healthcare provider. Treatment should begin as soon as possible; failure to treat trichinosis could be fatal. Treatment is based on symptoms, the specific cause, and laboratory tests results. Milder cases may include bed rest and medications to relieve fever and muscle pain. More severe cases may include steroids to reduce muscle inflammation and heart complications.
Your doctor might prescribe:
- Drugs to rid your body of parasites, including mebendazole and albendazole
- Drugs to help with pain, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)
- Drugs to help with inflammation, such as steroids
What are complications of trichinosis?
- Inflammation and damage to the heart, which could result in irregular heart rhythm and/or heart failure
- Inflammation and damage to the brain, which could result in seizures
- Inflammation and damage to the lungs, which could cause severe breathing problems
- Death (rare)
Outlook / Prognosis
What is the outlook (prognosis) for people with trichinosis?
Most people enjoy a full recovery.