CDC: Family Contracts ‘Brain Worms’ After Cooking Black Bear Meat

NTD Newsroom
By NTD Newsroom
May 26, 2024US News
CDC: Family Contracts ‘Brain Worms’ After Cooking Black Bear Meat
A female Baribal American black bear and her newborn cubs in Port-Saint-Pere, near Nantes, western France, on May 3, 2019. (Loic Venance/AFP via Getty Images)

Six family members from across the United States who attended a family reunion contracted a foodborne disease after cooking black bear meat.

The family got together for a meal of black bear meat, which one family member had brought from a hunt in northern Saskatchewan, Canada, roughly two months prior. The meal included kebobs (kebabs) made from black bear meat, cooked with vegetables.

As a result of consuming the meal, six of the eight family members contracted a foodborne illness known as trichinellosis, or “brain worms,” according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Trichinellosis is a parasitic zoonotic disease transmitted through the consumption of meat from animals infected with Trichinella spp. Nematodes,” according to the CDC.

The patients who were diagnosed with trichinellosis ranged in age from 12 to 62 years and lived in three states. One family member lived in Arizona, one in South Dakota, and four resided in Minnesota.

According to the CDC, all cases were diagnosed in the patients’ state of residence, and all occurred several days after the reunion ended.

Three of the infected family members were hospitalized. All patients made a complete recovery.

Most of the family members who were infected consumed the bear meat, while some only ate the vegetables that were cooked with the meat.

Trichinellosis is rarely reported in the United States, but generally comes from eating wild game. The diagnosis first emerged when one of the family members, a 29-year-old man, was hospitalized twice over a 17-day period in a Minnesota hospital in July 2022.

The man initially reported symptoms which included fever, severe muscle aches, swelling around the eyes and other abnormalities discovered in blood tests, according to the CDC.

During this time, the man reported that he spent time with family members from Arizona, Minnesota, and South Dakota, while suffering from the symptoms.

The meat was brought into the United States the previous May by one of the family members who had hunted the black bear. It was then stored in a household freezer for 45 days before consumption, which should have technically been sufficient to kill the parasites.

However, certain types of trichinellosis are resistant to be being frozen for extended periods of time and require cooking at >165 degrees F (>74 degrees Celcius) for the parasites to be killed off.

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

“The meat was initially inadvertently served rare, reportedly because the meat was dark in color, and it was difficult for the family members to visually ascertain the level of doneness. After some of the family members began eating the meat and noticed that it was undercooked, the meat was recooked before being served again.”

Meat infected with the trichinella parasite can cross-contaminate other foods, which explains how the family members who only ate vegetables cooked with the meat got infected.

The CDC therefore urged those preparing the meat to do so separate from other foods to prevent cross-contamination.

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