The CDC has reported an outbreak of human trichinellosis after six people contracted the parasite in South Dakota. Human trichinellosis is a rare parasitic disease that is usually acquired through the consumption of wild game.

The hunting season for the species in question is about to begin in Michigan, so it's important for hunters to be aware of the potential risks.

While it's possible to contract the disease from the meat of other animals that aren't commonly hunted for game, such as wolverines and cougars, the black bear was responsible for the majority of the 35 probable and confirmed cases of trichinellosis from January 206 through December 2022.

What is Trichinellosis?

Trichinellosis is a parasitic disease found in the muscle tissues of infected wild animals that happen to feed on another infected prey. According to the Mayo Clinic, trichinellosis is a type of roundworm infection.

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Because the most likely transmitter to humans is bear meat, cases are incredibly rare in the United States. To contract trichinellosis, one would have consumed raw or undercooked meat of an infected animal, meaning that the individual inadvertently ate the immature form of the roundworm larvae.

Once consumed, the larvae grow into adult worms in the small intestine over several weeks. The adult worms then produce larvae that travel through the host's bloodstream to different parts of the body, burying themselves in muscle tissue.

It's possible for someone to contract a small amount of the parasite and show no signs or symptoms of infection. However, moderate to heavy infestation will induce symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, severe fatigue, nausea and vomiting within one or two days after infection.

The larvae can live for months or even years inside muscle tissue. However, between 2 to 8 weeks of muscle tissue invasion, symptoms ramp up to include high fever and chills, muscle pain and tenderness, aching joints, swelling of face and eyelids, weakness, headache, sensitivity to light, pink eye, and itchy, irritated skin.

Bear Season in Michigan

Applications to hunt bear actually close for the 2024 season on Saturday, June 1. Those selected to be permitted to hunt bears in Michigan will be announced June 24. Most counties in the northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula that permit bear hunting will see the seasons open in the second week of September through late October. Dates vary, see the 2024 Michigan Bear Hunting Regulations Summary for more details.

How to Avoid Infection

Trichinellosis is just as difficult to detect as it is to avoid. Plus, it can spread to other foods it is stored with or cooked with.

The parasite is immune to freezing. In fact, larval motility has been observed in bear meat that had been frozen for nearly four months, according to the CDC.

The only means to eradicate trichinellosis is to cook meat to an internal temperature of ≥165°. Observing the color of the meat is not enough to determine the preparedness of the meat.

Bears in the Trash Dump

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