Eating polar bear? Make sure it’s well-cooked, GN warns
Polar bears—like walrus and pigs—may carry nasty trichinella parasites
When you eat polar bear meat, make sure it’s cooked all the way through.
You need to make sure it’s well-cooked, because most polar bears carry a tiny round worm called trichinella, which can make people sick, the Government of Nunavut’s health department said in a recent advisory timed for the start of the spring polar bear hunt in Nunavut.
“Freezing or fermenting meat will not kill trichinella. It can only be killed by cooking,” the GN said, adding that polar bear meat is a nutritious food.
But, before you eat polar bear, you should make sure that there’s no pink or red in the meat.
The majority of polar bears do carry the trichinella worm, which can cause trichinellosis—also called trichinosis—a parasitic disease caused by the larvae of the trichinella worm.
If you eat under-cooked meat of a polar bear, walrus or pig, that is infected with trichinella worms you’ll ingest a number of the worm’s cysts.
When these cysts get into the stomach, they travel through the intestinal tract down to the lower bowel. During that time they hatch into worms.
The worms then mate and produce thousands of new worms. The number of worms produced determines how sick a person will become.
The first symptoms of trichinellosis include diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, fever, and abdominal discomfort for 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, for about two to eight weeks.
Death can occur in some cases.
If caught when the parasite is still in a person’s stomach, trichinellosis can be treated with antibiotics, but if the cysts have already migrated to the muscles, it’s too late and in severe cases they can cause death.
The only way to ensure the parasite is rendered harmless in meat is to cook it.
To spread the word about safe cooking to avoid infection, the GN has prepared a fact sheet on trichinella.