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Undercooked bear meat to blame for infecting family with rare roundworm parasite: CDC

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At least six family members, including a 12-year-old, who gathered for a meal of black bear meat during a family reunion in South Dakota were infected by a rare roundworm parasite known as trichinellosis, the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention said in a release on Thursday. 

Eight members of the family ate a meal together in South Dakota in 2022 that included the meat which one of them had been harvested in Saskachewan, Canada, and frozen for 45 days after a hunting outfitter recommended that as a way to get rid of parasites.

“Persons who consume meat from wild game animals should be aware that adequate cooking is the only reliable way to kill Trichinella parasites, and that infected meat can cross-contaminate other foods,” the CDC said in the release. 

The meat was then grilled and served with vegetables as kebabs. Two of the infected family members had only eaten the vegetables. 

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Parasite larvae from the black bear meat.  (CDC)

Because the meat was darker, it was inadvertently served rare, which some of the family members mentioned and then recooked. 

In July 2022, six days after the meal, one of the family members, a 29-year-old who had returned to Minnesota, began to experience symptoms, including fever, severe muscle aches, periorbital edema (swelling around the eyes), and eosinophilia. 

After the 29-year-old was hospitalized for the second time in 17 days, health care providers found out he had eaten bear meat, and he was diagnosed with the parasite and the Minnesota Department of Health was notified. 

The man was prescribed empiric albendazole as a treatment. 

“Albendazole is used to treat infections caused by worms,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “It works by keeping the worm from absorbing sugar (glucose), so that the worm loses energy and dies.”

American Black Bear

All the patients who ate the black bear meat recovered from the parasite infection. (iStock)

Eight family members, who live in Minnesota, South Dakota and Arizona, were interviewed by public health officials and six of them were found to have the parasite.

A ninth person, who is a minor and whose exposure to the meat couldn’t be confirmed, appeared to be healthy, the CDC said. 

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Another two of the infected family members were hospitalized and prescribed albendazole, and all six family members recovered.  

After the infected meat is ingested and “After exposure to gastric acid and pepsin, the larvae are released from the cysts and invade the small bowel mucosa where they develop into adult worms,” the CDC said of the parasite. “Females are 2.2 mm in length; males 1.2 mm. The life span in the small bowel is about four weeks. After one week, the females release larvae that migrate to striated muscles where they encyst.”

examination of the larvae on the meat

Microscopic examination of encapsulated larvae in a black bear meat muscle. (CDC)

The larvae can move through the body to muscle tissue and even to the brain, CBS reported. 

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The CDC advised: “Cooking meat to an internal temperature of ≥165°F (≥74°C) is necessary to kill Trichinella spp. parasites. Trichinella-infected meat can cross-contaminate other foods, and raw meat should be kept and prepared separate from other foods to prevent cross-contamination.”



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