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Muscle biopsy showing Trichinosis

Trichinosis is an infection caused by the worm, Trichinella spiralis, but does not occur in Australia.

What is going on in the body? 
People become infected with Trichinella by eating poorly cooked or raw meat, especially pork which is infected with the worm. Its larvae can remain alive and detectable in human tissue for years.

What are the signs and symptoms of the infection? 
Most of the time infection occurs without symptoms. When there are symptoms, they occur during the first week after swallowing the organism. Symptoms can include:
  • stomach ache
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
When the worms leave the intestines and migrate through the tissues, symptoms can include:
  • fever
  • muscle aches
  • rash
  • eye swelling
  • small eye haemorrhages
Rarely, serious problems involving the heart, central nervous system and lungs occur.

What are the causes and risks of the infection? 
Eating raw or inadequately cooked meat increases the risk of acquiring trichinosis.

What can be done to prevent the infection? 
Trichinosis is prevented by thoroughly cooking meats, especially pork.

How is the infection diagnosed? 
Doctors use a blood test that detects antibodies produced by the person's body to fight against the Trichenella organism. It also is possible to see the organism by looking at a sample of muscle tissue under a microscope, which is called a muscle biopsy. A person can assume that he or she has trichinosis if he or she has the above symptoms and sees worms in the food they were eating, if any food remains.

What are the long-term effects of the infection? 
Long-term effects and death are very rare.

What are the risks to others? 
The disease is not spread person-to-person.

What are the treatments for the infection? 
Mebendazole is the treatment of choice.

If the infection has caused severe heart, lung or central nervous system problems, steroids such as prednisone may be used.

What are the side effects of the treatments? 
Sometimes Mebendazole causes diarrhoea and stomach upset.

What happens after treatment for the infection? 
Most symptoms disappear by about the third month, although vague muscular pains and tiredness may persist for months.

How is the infection monitored? 
Most people with trichinosis recover fully with treatment.

Author: Danielle Zerr, MD
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 7/02/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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