You can contract this disease when you eat pork or pork products that contain the live worms, round in shape and microscopic in size, that are called trichinae. Although most people associate trichinosis with pig meat only, other animal flesh, including deer and bear, can also be contaminated. After you eat infected meat, the parasites lodge and reproduce in your intestines. Their larvae enter the bloodstream, travel to your muscles, and , while growing there, cause pain, fever, muscle deterioration, and sometimes death.
Trichinosis is not found around the entire globe. Southeast Asians eat raw pork, and Europeans consume raw hams - for example, the celebrated prosciutto of Parma - without dire health consequences. In the United States, the medical profession nowadays sees relatively few cases of trichinosis, owning to increased public awareness and the widespread adoption of precautionary measures. For instance, garbage - favored by trichinae and pigs - is now cooked before it is fed to the animals. Most municipalities have instituted laws requiring the butchers within their jurisdiction use a separate meat grinder for pork, or that they sterilize the grinder before changing from pork to nonpork. In this way, the chance of contaminating other foods is minimal or nil. Government standards help assure the consumer that cured ham and precooked sausages produced by responsible meat processors are free of trichinae.
Today chicken meat is 1,000 times more likely to be contaminated with harmful bacteria than pork with the trichinae worm parasite. Still, whenever you eat any other American-produced pork, it is wise to assume that it contains live trichinae, even though the actual chances that this is so are incredibly small. Remember that a government inspection seal is no protection against trichinosis because the examiners do not check for the microscopic worms. Take the same precautions that your butcher should. Never taste-test uncooked pork mixtures. Always thoroughly wash your hands and any utensil that touches raw pork with hot water and soap and detergent. If you grind the pork, sterilize the machine with boiling water afterward.
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