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Parasites, Worms, and Diseases in Meat

Updated on August 7, 2019
Schatzie Speaks profile image

Schatzie has bachelor's degrees in animal science and English. She has a master's in education and is a certified teacher.


When individuals consume or handle meat, they may be exposing themselves to many harmful diseases. It is therefore essential to know the parasites that may exist in meats and how they are passed on to humans.

The very young, very old, and immunocompromised are often the most susceptible to infections. However, any member of the general population can find themselves infested with worms, bacteria, or protozoa as the result of eating a contaminated meal.

Read on for a glimpse at nine food-borne illnesses linked to meats.


When individuals dine on sushi, ceviche, sashimi, or pickled herring they may also be swallowing unknown quantities of worm larvae. These larvae infest marine animals and are then transferred to humans as they eat raw or inadequately cooked meat.

The life cycle of the worms causing anisakiasis, also known as herring worm disease, is a relatively complex process. It begins when whales or other marine mammal hosts defecate in the ocean. This disperses a host of eggs that develop into larvae within the water. Larvae are then eaten by squid, which are in turn eaten by fish. Finally, both of these larvae-consuming predators are eaten by humans.


Soon after or even while consuming contaminated dishes, people may experience the first symptoms of infestation. The movement of worms in the mouth or throat region causes a sudden itching sensation. At this point, if an individual coughs or vomits, the worms will readily be expelled from the body.

If worms remain in the system, they travel to the gastrointestinal tract. Here they cause abdominal distention, diarrhea, and mucus or blood in the stool within hours.

Luckily this is a preventable problem. Larvae die when fish is cooked at 140 degrees Fahrenheit for ten minutes, frozen at -4 degrees Fahrenheit for seven days, or blast frozen at -31 degrees Fahrenheit for fifteen hours.

Raw fish dishes should be avoided altogether to reduce the risk of contamination further.

Campylobateriosis is among the leading causes of diarrhea in the US. 1.3 million people succumb to campylobacter annually.


Consuming raw or undercooked chicken is the most common way that humans become infected with these intestinal bacteria.

Symptoms of infection include bloody or watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and fever. In rare instances, infection may also lead to Guillain-Barre syndrome. This is a severe disease of the nervous system that causes nerve inflammation and muscle weakness. It usually occurs two weeks following initial exposure to campylobacter.

In addition to infection from meat, people can also get sick from animal contact and exposure to animal feces. Carriers of campylobacter include dogs, cats, and various livestock. If any of these animals develop diarrhea, care should be taken to disinfect and clean the surroundings thoroughly. Individuals with compromised immunity must be especially careful to wash their hands after coming in contact with animals.


Escherichia Coli 0157

This bacteria is the most successful disease-causing species.

A majority of infections occur after ingesting E.coli 0157 contaminated food, such as undercooked hamburger. However, exposure to the feces of sick or healthy cows can also result in disease.

An E.coli 0157 infection causes watery or bloody diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting, nausea, and fever. These may be either moderate or severe, depending on the individual.

The most susceptible are the very young, who can develop hemolytic uremic syndrome and die from induced kidney failure.

It can take up to a decade for the symptoms of leprosy to appear: Growths, lesions, numb or dry skin, extreme pain, weakened muscles, nosebleeds, and/or impaired eyesight.

LEPROSY- a newly discovered link to meat

A fairly recent study has found that domestic leprosy contamination may occur while individuals make or eat armadillo-based barbecue or chili, traditional southern favorites.

Preparing and consuming meat is thought to be the leading means of disease transfer. Live animal contact or even brief contact with roadkill are considered far less risky.

An additional interesting find: European settlers were the ones to first infect the armadillo. Before their arrival in North America, there is no evidence of a single leprosy-carrying animal. The fact that fifteen percent of the wild armadillo population now carries this skin disfiguring and nerve-damaging disease can be blamed only upon America's founders.


Because of its presence in soil and water produce can also become contaminated with listeria bacteria.

Always thoroughly wash and, when possible, scrub fruits and vegetables before consuming them.


This disease is relatively rare but very serious. The most commonly affected are the elderly, pregnant women, newborns, and immunocompromised individuals. However, others may be affected, as well.

Symptoms are mild in pregnant women, who are the most likely among adults to get this disease. Unfortunately, an infection can result in several complications with delivery and impact the health of newborns. Others with this disease may develop a fever, achy muscles, stiff necks, confusion, imbalance, and convulsions.

Listeria bacteria live in soil and water and asymptomatic animals can be carriers. The meat and dairy products from these animals are also contaminated. Raw or undercooked meat, unpasteurized milk, and processed items like hot dogs, smoked seafood, or deli meats are likely sources for this bacteria.

Fortunately, proper cooking and standard pasteurization destroy listeria-causing bacteria. However, foods made ready-to-eat may not be safe for consumption. This is because products like deli meats or hot dogs may become contaminated after processing but before packaging. Even if these items are refrigerated, the bacteria have been known to thrive in these cold conditions.


Consuming contaminated chicken or eggs exposes individuals to salmonella bacteria.

Infection may also result from contact with the feces of reptiles, chicks, and ducklings. Developing salmonellosis from the feces of dogs, cats, birds, horses, or livestock is possible as well, but less common.

Those most at risk are individuals five years of age or younger, those with organ transplants, AIDS patients, and individuals undergoing cancer treatment.

Salmonellosis causes diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain that persist for approximately one week. In some cases, people may require medical attention if diarrhea is particularly problematic or other organs become infected.


Toxoplasmosis causes more fatalities than any other foodborne illness within the United States. Luckily, of the millions of Americans who are infected, most remain asymptomatic due to well-functioning immune systems. It is the pregnant or immune compromised who are at risk.


By adulthood, as many as twenty out of one hundred individuals in North America have experienced a protozoa-induced toxoplasmosis infection. However, the symptoms of the disease are typically limited to swollen glands, achy muscles, and flu-like symptoms.

Unfortunately, if a woman is infected before or during pregnancy the disease can be passed on to her growing fetus. Early in development, this can result in fetal death, poor fetal growth or premature delivery. If exposed later on, babies may be born with compromised eye function, water around their brains, convulsions, or mental abnormalities.

Eating improperly cooked pork, lamb, or venison or drinking contaminated water passes on the toxoplasmosis parasite. So does exposure to the feces of cats, as happens when cleaning litter boxes.


Any individuals who handle the meat or carcasses of wild animals should be knowledgeable about the bacterial disease tularemia.

Close contact with wild animals and exposure to their bites, blood, or raw meat can all result in this disease. The bacteria can also be transferred through ticks or biting flies, water, soil, and even the surrounding air.

Tularemia affects both people and their pets. In humans, symptoms include fevers, chills, headaches, diarrhea, achy muscles, painful joints, coughs, and weakness. Pneumonia, chest pain, and breathing complications can develop and individuals may stop breathing entirely. If untreated, people have been known to die from complications.

This can all be prevented by avoiding wild rodents, beavers, squirrels, hares, or rabbits and, when unavoidable, only handling their carcasses and meat with gloves. Water that comes in contact with wild animals should also be avoided as well unless it is first properly treated.


Yersiniosis is particularly problematic at cooler temperatures in temperate climates like northern Europe, Canada, and Japan, and is common among individuals with elevated iron levels, such as those with chronic hemolysis or who are prescribed iron-chelating medications.


A Yersiniosis infection occurs when individuals ingest undercooked pork or milk contaminated with bacteria.

The yersinia enterocolitica bacterium can sicken individuals for weeks. However, it is most common in younger children. While kids develop fevers, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, adults are less often affected. When they do get yersiniosis, they develop fevers and pain on the right side of their body. In some individuals, symptoms persist beyond the standard three weeks, and pain in their joints may last for months.

To prevent contamination with these bacteria, clean hands and any surfaces that come in contact with raw pork. People exposed to the feces of cats, dogs, horses, cows, rodents, or rabbits may also get yersiniosis, so always wash hands with soap after close contact with these animals.


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