When you throw that walrus steak on the grill this weekend, you better make sure it’s well done: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning that inadequately cooked walrus meat has been linked to recent cases of trichinellosis, also known as trichinosis.
While most Americans likely won’t get their hands on fresh walrus anytime soon, the animal is often consumed in Alaska, where there have been two outbreaks of trichinosis reported over the last year, according to the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Between July 2016 and May 2017, the Alaska Division of Public Health investigated two separate outbreaks in the western part of the state, both of which were associated with consumption of raw or undercooked walrus.
There have been five cases identified in each of the two outbreaks, the first multiple-case outbreaks of walrus-associated trichinosis in the state since 1992. All the patients from both outbreaks have since made a full recovery.
“In areas where wild game species are harvested for subsistence, traditional methods of collecting, handling, preparing, storing, and consuming meat often have great cultural significance; however, some of these methods can be inconsistent with public health best practices,” the CDC notes.
To that end, in order to reduce the risk of trichinosis, the CDC advises folks to follow U.S. Department of Agriculture recommendations for wild game: Cook it to 160 °F, measured with a meat thermometer.
This is because the parasite that causes trichinosis can’t be killed reliably simply by smoking, drying, or fermenting the meat, and it can also tolerate freezing, the CDC notes.
Signs of a trichinosis infection vary: Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, fever, and abdominal discomfort are often the first symptoms, while headaches, fevers, chills, cough, swelling of the face and eyes, aching joints and muscle pains, itchy skin, diarrhea, or constipation may follow.
In more severe cases, patients may also experience difficulty coordinating movements, and have heart and breathing problems. In severe cases, death can occur.