In the summer of 2022, a family reunion in South Dakota turned into a nightmare for a family of nine when they consumed black bear meat that had been harvested in Canada weeks before. Little did they know that along with the meat, they were also serving up a side of dangerous parasites.

After consuming the bear meat, the diners began to fall ill with flu-like symptoms. While three individuals had relatively mild symptoms that resolved on their own, another three had to be hospitalized. One young man experienced severe symptoms, including fever, muscle aches, swelling, and an elevated white blood cell count.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted an investigation and discovered moving roundworm larvae in the bear meat after it had been frozen for 110 days in the family’s freezer. Genetic testing confirmed the presence of Trichinella nativa, a parasite resistant to freezing temperatures.

While human infections of Trichinella in North America are rare, the outbreak among the family members was quite unusual. Only two individuals tested positive for Trichinellosis, but four others were considered probable cases based on clinical and epidemiological criteria.

All three patients hospitalized after consuming the bear meat received treatment for trichinellosis and have since recovered. The investigation also found that six out of eight family members interviewed only consumed vegetables at the reunion, leading experts to suspect cross-contamination during the cooking process.

Lessons Learned

This incident serves as a stark reminder that not all parasites are killed by freezing or cooking. It highlights the importance of thorough cooking, especially when it comes to wild game meat. Adequate cooking at temperatures above 74°C (165°F) is essential to kill Trichinella parasites and prevent cross-contamination.

This is not the first time that T. nativa has infected individuals through consumption of bear meat. In 2000, a similar incident in northern Saskatchewan resulted in several hospitalizations and cases of trichinosis. While most patients recovered, untreated cases of the infection can be fatal.

The case of the bear meat parasite outbreak serves as a cautionary tale for those who consume wild game meat. Proper cooking and food safety practices are crucial to prevent infections and ensure the safety of those enjoying hunting and consuming wild game animals.

Health

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