Trichinellosis

Trichinellosis is a disease caused by a roundworm called trichinella spiralis, whose larvae are usually seen in pork products. The larvae develop into adult worms in the human intestine and subsequently produce their own larvae which migrate to skeletal muscle where they get encysted and cause illness that varies from no symptoms, diarrhea, and swollen painful muscles to life-threatening heart failure.

Where does it occur?

It occurs worldwide.

How is it transmitted?

The infection is transmitted by ingesting raw or undercooked pork meat, but outbreaks in Europe have occurred with ingestion of horse, wild boar and walrus meat.

Is it contagious from person to person?

It is not contagious from person to person.

What is the risk for travelers?

The risk is generally low as long as you do not consume raw or undercooked meats.

How soon after exposure will one develop symptoms?

Initial symptoms usually develop from 1-2 weeks after consumption of contaminated meats.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Symptoms usually start with abdominal pain and diarrhea as the adult worms mature and produce larvae in the intestines.

Over a period of 1-2 weeks as the larvae infect muscles one sees fever and muscle pains; initially involving the eye with swelling of eyelids and hemorrhage of the conjunctiva etc. Fevers can be high accompanied by chills, sweats and thirst. This is followed by involvement of the muscles of the jaw, neck, limbs and back.

Complications like heart failure and sometimes encephalitis can also occur. Most symptoms resolve after 2-3 weeks but rarely one can die from complications.

Are there any lab tests to diagnose the illness?

Patients have increased eosinophil counts in their blood smear and elevated muscle enzymes (creatine phosphokinase). Specific antibody tests are available and the parasite can be seen in skeletal muscle biopsies.

Is there any treatment?

Medications like Albnendazole or mebendazole are effective in treatment.

What preventive measures can be taken?

Make sure you only ingest meat that has been cooked to well done (160 degrees F).

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