Six Family Members Get Brain Worms After Eating Black Bear Meat, CDC Says

Parasitic brain infections, like the one presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said he suffered from, are more common—and varied—than you might think.

In South Dakota, for example, six family members became ill after contracting brain worms from eating black bear meat that one of their own prepared, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported this week.

The family members contracted trichinellosis, a disease that, while rare in humans in North America, can be contracted through consumption of wild game meat, according to the CDC. It was in 2022 when nine members of an extended family gathered to eat skewers of grilled vegetables and black bear meat from northern Canada, according to the report published on May 23 of this year.

The family members who were infected came from three states: Arizona, Minnesota and South Dakota.

How were the larvae detected?

The family member who had obtained the meat recommended freezing it to kill the parasites. According to the CDC report, the meat was in a home freezer for 45 days before it was roasted with vegetables. However, they initially served it half-cooked without realizing it, since the dark color of it made it difficult to tell the level of doneness at a glance.

“After some family members began eating the meat and noticed that it was undercooked, the meat was cooked again before being served again,” the report states.

Six days later, one of the family members, a 29-year-old man, was hospitalized with symptoms that included fever, severe muscle aches, swelling around the eyes and a high white blood cell count, which occurs in the body when it responds to an infection. .

Other symptoms of trichinellosis include stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, according to the CDC.

Molecular testing identified the bear meat larvae as native Trichinella, a freeze-resistant species. “People who consume wild game meat should be aware that proper cooking is the only reliable way to kill parasites. “Infected meat can contaminate other foods,” the CDC report states.

After learning about bear meat consumption, health care providers prescribed albendazole, which is used to treat trichinellosis.

The Kennedy Jr. case that baffled many

In the case of the independent candidate for the presidency of the United States, his infection was caused by neurocysticercosis, which is related to pig worm larvae, or by drinking contaminated water. A rare disease in the country, which hospitalizes between 1,000 and 2,000 Americans a year.

Neurocysticercosis causes seizures, headaches, blindness, blurred vision, dizziness, psychosis, or memory loss. In some cases, it can even be lethal.

In early May, it was learned that Kennedy Jr. once suffered a parasitic brain infection, after The New York Times quoted the now independent candidate for the presidency of the United States in a 2012 statement, in which who says that two years earlier, doctors had detected an abnormal spot on his brain amid symptoms of memory loss and brain fog. A doctor concluded that it was caused by a worm that burrowed into his brain and then he died.

Stefanie Spear, press secretary for the Kennedy campaign, said in a statement in response to the Times article: “Mr. Kennedy traveled extensively in Africa, South America and Asia in his work as an environmental advocate, and in one of those places contracted a parasite. The problem was resolved more than 10 years ago, and he is in solid physical and mental health.”

Health experts explained to Scientific American magazine that adult worms do not usually end up in the brain. What does get there are parasites in their early stages of development, such as eggs or larvae that “accidentally reach the brain.”