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a) a micrograph of worms in bubbles within muscle tissue. B) a micrograph of a coiled worm on muscle.
(a) This image shows larvae of T. spiralis within muscle. (b) In meat, the larvae have a characteristic coiled appearance, as seen in this partially digested larva in bear meat. (credit a, b: modification of work by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

OpenStax Microbiology

Trichinosis (trichenellosis) develops following consumption of food that contains Trichinella spiralis (most commonly) or other Trichinella species. These microscopic nematode worms are most commonly transmitted in meat, especially pork, that has not been cooked thoroughly. T. spiralis larvae in meat emerge from cysts when exposed to acid and pepsin in the stomach. They develop into mature adults within the large intestine. The larvae produced in the large intestine are able to migrate into the muscles mechanically via the stylet of the parasite, forming cysts. Muscle proteins are reduced in abundance or undetectable in cells that contain Trichinella (nurse cells). Animals that ingest the cysts from other animals can later develop infection.

Although infection may be asymptomatic, symptomatic infections begin within a day or two of consuming the nematodes. Abdominal symptoms arise first and can include diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain. Other possible symptoms include headache, light sensitivity, muscle pain, fever, cough, chills, and conjunctivitis. More severe symptoms affecting motor coordination, breathing, and the heart sometimes occur. It may take months for the symptoms to resolve, and the condition is occasionally fatal. Mild cases may be mistaken for influenza or similar conditions.

Infection is diagnosed using clinical history, muscle biopsy to look for larvae, and serological testing, including immunoassays. Enzyme immunoassay is the most common test. It is difficult to effectively treat larvae that have formed cysts in the muscle, although medications may help. It is best to begin treatment as soon as possible because medications such as mebendazole and albendazole are effective in killing only the adult worms in the intestine. Steroids may be used to reduce inflammation if larvae are in the muscles.


Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: