Nunavik public health: Trichinellosis hits 15 people in Inukjuak
Nunavik public health recommends residents fully cook wild meat before consumption
Nunavik public health officials are encouraging residents of Inukjuak to fully cook wild meat while they investigate a local outbreak of trichinellosis.
Since early October, 15 people in that Hudson Bay community have presented signs and symptoms of the disease, which is caused by a parasite.
The trichinellosis diagnosis was confirmed Oct. 22 by the parasitology laboratory of the Montreal General Hospital, says an Oct. 23 public health news release from the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services.
In the Arctic, trichinellosis, or trichinosis, is caused by a microscopic parasite called trichinella nativa, sometimes found in the meat of wild mammals like polar bears, black bears, wolves, foxes and, most commonly, walruses.
The source of the outbreak in Inukjuak has not yet been identified, although officials are asking the local population to fully cook any harvested animals before eating, while an investigation continues.
“There have been no new cases in the last nine days,” said public health official Dr. Jean-François Proulx. “That’s where there is an investigation to determine the source.”
The disease can develop after eating uncooked meat from an infected animal.
Once infected meat is consumed, trichinella worm eggs pass into the intestine where they grow and reproduce. The young worms then spread throughout the body in the blood stream.
The first symptoms of trichinellosis include diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, fever, and abdominal discomfort one to two days after eating the infected meat.
Headaches, fevers, chills, cough, eye swelling, aching joints and muscle pains, itchy skin, diarrhea, or constipation follow the first symptoms, about two to eight weeks after eating the meat.
You may start to have trouble with your coordination, and have heart and breathing problems.
In Inukjuak, two people were hospitalized, but have since returned home, said Proulx.
Most symptoms disappear within a few months — often, mild cases of trichinellosis are never diagnosed because the symptoms resemble the flu.
But in severe cases, death can occur.
Nunavut and Nunavik have seen many outbreaks of trichinosis — in Salluit in 1987, when 42 people fell ill; in 1999, when 34 in Qikiqtarjuaq became infected; in 2005, when 12 hunters were sickened in Kangiqsualujjuaq after eating barbequed black bear meat, and in 2006 when two fell ill with trichinosis in Kuujjuaq and 50 in Cape Dorset. Last year in Igloolik, some residents turned up at the health centre with trichinosis symptoms.
After Nunavik’s Salluit outbreak, the region developed a walrus-meat inspection program, where hunters send in walrus tongue for laboratory tests that detect infestation before meat is distributed and eaten.
There have been no other documented cases of trichinellosis related to eating walrus in Nunavik since then, say public health officials.
Trichinella affects about four in 100 walruses in Nunavik.
Up to 60 per cent of polar bears in Nunavik may be infected with trichinella, researchers say, but traditionally polar bear meat is fully cooked before eating.