In the summer of 2022, a family reunion in South Dakota took a terrifying turn when a meal of black bear kebabs led to multiple family members falling ill. The source of the illness was traced back to the bear meat that had been hunted and harvested by one of the attendees during a trip to Canada. While the meat had been kept frozen as advised by the hunting guide, tiny parasites managed to survive and make their way onto the dinner table.

The resulting illness resembled a flu-like sickness, with some family members experiencing relatively mild symptoms, while others were hospitalized. One family member required multiple visits to the hospital due to severe symptoms such as fever, muscle aches, and an elevated white blood cell count. The culprit behind these symptoms was identified as Trichinella nativa, a parasite commonly found in wild animals such as bears, boars, and foxes.

While human infections from Trichinella parasites are rare in North America, the outbreak among multiple individuals within the same family was considered unusual. Laboratory confirmation of the parasite’s presence was challenging due to the limited sensitivity of early antibody testing. However, all patients who fell ill after consuming the bear meat received treatment directed at trichinellosis and eventually recovered.

Surprisingly, it was discovered that six out of eight family members who fell ill had only consumed vegetables at the reunion, not the bear meat. Experts suspected that the vegetables might have been contaminated during the cooking process, as the bear meat had been inadvertently served rare initially. Despite attempts to recook the meat once it was identified as undercooked, it was too late to prevent the spread of the parasites.

This case serves as a stark reminder that not all parasites are eliminated by freezing or cooking. The incident highlights the importance of thoroughly cooking wild meat to kill any potential parasites like Trichinella. This warning is particularly crucial for communities in northern Saskatchewan where wild bear meat is commonly consumed.

This isn’t the first time that bear meat has been linked to Trichinella infections. Previous incidents in northern Saskatchewan in 2000 resulted in hospitalizations and probable cases among individuals who had consumed contaminated meat. The CDC emphasizes that adequate cooking is the only reliable way to kill Trichinella parasites and prevent cross-contamination with other foods.

The case of parasites in bear meat serves as a cautionary tale for those who consume wild game. Proper cooking techniques and awareness of the risks associated with consuming wild meat can help prevent similar incidents from occurring. It is essential to prioritize food safety and take precautions when handling and preparing meat from wild animals to avoid the potential dangers of parasitic infections.

Health

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