For people who have a taste for walrus, health officials are cautioning that the meat should be well done.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are issuing a warning on the said food items after two outbreaks of trichinosis were reported last year in western Alaska. The disease came from eating undercooked walrus meat, and 10 people were affected, CBS News reports. All of them have since recovered.
This was the first incident since 1992 that multiple outbreaks of trichinosis were linked to eating walrus meat. Walrus can only legally be hunted by Alaska Natives for handicraft or survival purposes.
In this week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC is urging health care providers to consider looking into wild game consumption when patients exhibit symptoms of trichinosis.
The condition is contracted by consuming raw or undercooked meat from animals that have a microscopic roundworm infection. Extreme heat kills this parasite, preventing it from transferring to humans.
Trichinosis was historically mostly linked to undercooked pork. But since the 1990s, wild game has become the more likely source of infection. In Alaska, the disease is mostly caused by black bear or polar bear meat.
But among the 241 trichinosis cases reported in Alaska since 1975, 24 were associated with undercooked seal meat, and 100 to walrus meat.
Last August, a girl reported pain and swelling in her legs, an itchy rash, difficulty walking, fever and muscle pain. Blood tests showed that she and the rest of her family had a parasitic infection, stemming from eating walrus that was pan-fried to “medium” done.
In September, the girl’s aunt and uncle were treated at a Nome hospital after eating raw walrus meat. Health officials advised them that the parasite does not die with merely drying, smoking or fermenting the meat.
In May, state officials received notice of an outbreak in Norton Sound, and a man had to be treated in Nome. He and four neighbors had shared walrus that had been boiled for an hour, which cooked the exterior but left the inside undercooked. Two people tested positive, while three showed symptoms of trichinosis.
Early symptoms can appear one or two days after eating the meat, and can become more severe in the following weeks.