In the summer of 2022, a family reunion in South Dakota turned into a nightmare after a dinner featuring black bear kebabs. The meat, hunted in Canada and kept frozen, ended up causing illness among the attendees. Three members of the family had to be hospitalized after consuming the contaminated meat, while others experienced flu-like symptoms. One individual made multiple trips to the hospital due to severe symptoms, including muscle aches and pain, elevated white blood cell count, and swelling around the eyes.

The investigation by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed the presence of Trichinella nativa parasites in the bear meat. These parasites, resistant to freezing temperatures, are commonly found in wild animals like bears, boars, foxes, and walruses. Human infections in North America are rare, with only about 20 reported cases annually. The outbreak among the family members in South Dakota was a unique and concerning event.

Laboratory confirmation of trichinellosis can be challenging, especially in the early stages of the illness. Antibody testing may have limited sensitivity, making it difficult to detect the infection promptly. Despite the difficulties, the three hospitalized patients received treatment directed at trichinellosis and eventually recovered from the illness.

Surprisingly, not all family members who attended the reunion consumed the bear meat. Six out of eight individuals only ate vegetables, but still fell ill. Experts at the CDC suspect that the vegetables may have been contaminated during the cooking process. The meat was initially undercooked and then recooked after some family members realized it wasn’t done properly, leading to potential cross-contamination.

Lessons Learned

The unfortunate incident serves as a cautionary tale for those who consume wild meat. Freezing and cooking may not always eliminate parasites like Trichinella, emphasizing the importance of proper cooking techniques. The CDC warns that adequate cooking, with internal temperatures reaching 74°C (165°F), is crucial to kill these parasites and prevent infections.

History of Infections

This is not the first time wild bear meat has been linked to trichinosis outbreaks. In 2000, a similar incident occurred in northern Saskatchewan, where infected bear meat caused illness among a group of individuals. The infection can be severe and even fatal if left untreated, highlighting the importance of proper handling and cooking of wild game animals.

The case of trichinellosis at the family reunion in South Dakota serves as a stark reminder of the risks associated with consuming wild meat. Proper cooking practices and awareness of potential parasite contamination are essential to prevent such outbreaks in the future. It is crucial for individuals, especially those in regions where wild game is commonly consumed, to take precautions and ensure that meat is cooked thoroughly to avoid infections like trichinosis.


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