What Is Trichinosis And How Do You Get It?

What is trichinosis? Can you get it by eating undercooked pork that has been frozen?

Trichinosis is a parasitic foodborne disease that is also known as trichinellosis, named for the tiny roundworm that causes it, trichinella spiralis. Most cases develop in people who have eaten raw, undercooked or improperly processed pork. But it is possible to get it from wild game and other kinds of meat.

Freezing will kill trichinosis if the pork is frozen cold enough and long enough. I found conflicting instructions on freezing, but it is in the neighborhood of no more than 50 degrees Fahrenheit for three weeks. Cook it, using a meat thermometer, to a temperature of 170 degrees Fahrenheit and until the juices run clear. Freezing is not guaranteed to kill trichinella in wild game.

Once common in the United States, trichinosis has become rare here, probably because of increased awareness of food preparation and handling techniques. The symptoms of the disease range from very mild to very severe and they can set in anywhere from one day to five weeks after eating the contaminated food. Symptoms may include fatigue, fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, swelling of the upper eyelids, coughing, muscle pain, bleeding in the whites of the eyes and others.

When I was practicing in Arkansas, a patient came with lumps in his neck. He had eaten raw pork. Only after conducting a biopsy on the lumps and determining that they were not cancerous did we pinpoint the diagnosis as a trichinosis infection.

Trichinosis can be effectively treated with prescription medications that kill the parasite. Other medicines to treat the symptoms may be necessary. Some of the symptoms, such as fatigue, may linger for months. But if trichinosis is promptly treated, infected people can expect a full recovery.

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