Ten Alaskans Sickened By Parasite In Raw Walrus Meat

Jul 14, 2017

Walrus meat should be cooked well done to kill potential parasites that can be harmful to humans who eat it.
Credit Katie Basile / KYUK

A parasite in raw or undercooked walrus meat is making Alaskans sick.

Alaska Dispatch News reports that 10 people in Gambell and Savoonga developed fevers and painful, swollen legs after eating meat that contained a dangerous parasite. According to the state's Epidemiology Department, the parasite that they ate is called the trichinella roundworm, and symptoms of their infection may not appear for several weeks. The worms can also cause joint pain, diarrhea, nausea, and general weakness. Ingesting large numbers of their larvae can be deadly.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, Alaska hasn’t experienced an outbreak of trichinella worms since 1992, when multiple Alaskans also fell ill after eating walrus meat; the parasite is still considered rare. In an interview with Alaska Dispatch News, Lori Quakenbush of the state Department of Fish and Game's Arctic Marine Mammal Program said that only 1 to 3 percent of walruses are thought to be infected, but public health officials urge Alaskans to be careful.

Freezing meat won’t kill the trichinella worm. Neither will drying it, smoking it or fermenting it. So for now, some hunters are choosing to cook their walrus meat well done.