Rare Illness Sickens Several at a California Party Serving Raw Meat Contaminated With Worm Larvae

Undercooked meat may be tastier than when its well-done, at least according to some people, but it could also come with serious health consequences. And the repercussions can be quite unpleasant—just ask the attendees of a recent dinner party.

A dozen people who attended the same celebration in California came down with a mix of nasty health issues: fever, stomach pain, kidney problems and gastrointestinal bleeding, among other problems. Turns out, they all consumed larb, a traditional minced meat dish in Laos and Thailand. It often includes various types of meats, but this particular dish was made with raw pork that was found to be contaminated with Trichinella spiralis worm larvae, according to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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The parasite causes an illness known as trichinellosis, which is very rare in the United States—only 15 cases on average were reported per year between 2008-2012. Cases began to drop in the mid-20th century because laws regarding agricultural processes for commercially produced meats were improved. However, the meat in this particular case came from a boar raised on a private family farm and slaughtered for personal consumption. Therefore, less stringent safety and inspection standards were in place.

3_2_raw meat A man is pictured measuring raw meat at Langowan traditional market, which is famous for selling foods such as wild boar, snakes, and dogs. Recently, during a dinner party gone wrong, raw wild boar made a dozen people seriously ill in northern California. Putu Sayoga/Getty Images

In order to protect against future outbreaks, public health officials educated the party host about ways to prevent trichinellosis: freeze meat for thirty days and cook it to a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit to kill any worm larvae.

“Although the host did not indicate that he would employ these risk reduction techniques, he did state that he would not serve raw pork from pigs from his farm in the future,” according to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. “Some patients said they would no longer eat raw meat; one patient reported he would continue to eat raw meat from animals that he hunts, believing that raw meat confers strength.”

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The report brings attention to the fact the raw meat is a valued part of some cultures, which puts that population at an especially high-risk.

“Public health, agriculture, and wildlife authorities should strengthen efforts to provide culturally competent education about trichinellosis to private farmers, hunters, and communities whose cultural practices include raw meat consumption,” CDC officials recommend.

And wild boars aren't the only animals to be concerned about. Eating raw meat from domestic pigs, bears or cougars can lead to trichinellosis, too.