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Fish and Game Q&A: How common is trichinosis in wild game and how do we guard against it?

July 22, 2010 |  3:23 pm

Wild pig and piglets.

In support of the California Department of Fish and Game and its effort to keep hunters and anglers informed, Outposts, on Thursday or Friday, posts marine biologist Carrie Wilson's weekly Q&A column:

Question: I have a question about trichinosis in wild game. I understand it’s caused by a nematode-like worm that burrows into its host, and is most commonly associated with pork (although it can be found in any game that eats meat, such as bear). But, how common is it? For pig hunters in California, is it something that we should look out for, and if so, how do we guard against it? Thanks for your help. (Ren C.)

Answer: You can be at risk for contracting trichinosis if you eat raw or undercooked meats, particularly bear, pork, wild feline (such as a cougar), fox, dog, wolf, horse, seal or walrus. The disease cannot be transferred to others as infection occurs only by eating raw or undercooked meat containing Trichinella worms.

According to Department of Fish and Game Senior Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Ben Gonzales of the Wildlife Investigations Laboratory, limited data related to pig hunting indicates that trichinellosis (trichinosis) is relatively uncommon in wild pigs in California. Gonzales says he personally still cooks all his pork -- domestic and wild -- to well done. The greater risk to human health from wild pig relates to food hygiene and care of the carcass after it is taken.

Here are some facts on trichinosis from the Centers for Disease Control and on how to prevent it:

•  Hunters should practice good field dressing practices and cook all meat well.

•  Cook meat products until the juices run clear or to an internal temp of 170°F.

•  Freeze pork less than six inches thick for 20 days at 5°F to kill any worms.

•  Cook wild game meat thoroughly. Freezing wild game meats, unlike freezing pork products, even for long periods of  time, may not effectively kill all worms.

•  Clean meat grinders thoroughly if you prepare your own ground meats.

•  Curing (salting), drying, smoking, or microwaving meat does not consistently kill infective worms.

DFG recommends hunters take the following precautions when field dressing and preparing wild pigs:

•  Wear gloves when dressing out hogs and dispose of gloves properly.

•  Avoid eating/drinking/smoking while doing so.

•  Wear eye protection if there is risk of splashing from blood/other fluids.

•  Wear coveralls over clothes or promptly change into fresh clothes after dressing animals.

•  Wash hands and equipment thoroughly with hot, soapy water.

•  Practice good handling/storage procedures with the meat.

•  Properly cook the meat to 170°F to kill bacteria, viruses and parasites.

Wild pigs inhabit 56 of 58 counties in California but are most common in the foothills from the central coast region to the western Sierras, and on up into Humboldt County. Though widely distributed, hikers and other outdoors enthusiasts may still only catch a glimpse of one as it bolts through brush.

Anyone seeing a wild pig that appears ill should report it to DFG’s Wildlife Investigations Lab at (916) 358-2790.

"All types of wildlife carry a host of other viruses and bacteria that can be transmitted," said Gonzales. "By being vigilant about practicing good hygiene in the field and at home, hunters can greatly reduce the chances of contracting disease."

For more information, please go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Q: Does every licensed fisherman have to have their own stringer to hold their limit of fish? (Ed F.)

A: California Fish and Game laws do not specifically require each person to have their own stringer. However, it is a violation to possess more than your limit of fish. If you allow others to share your stringer, make sure they remain with you at all times, or else you are likely to be cited for having an overlimit.

Q: I am now on a one year probation because of an abalone violation. Am I allowed to still buy a fishing license to go only ocean fishing? (Han S.L.)

A: You will have to read the terms of your probation ordered by the court. If the judge ordered no fishing for 12 months, then the answer would be no. If the judge said no abalone fishing, then other fishing may be allowed. The ruling may differ by courts, but if the case was prosecuted in the Fort Bragg court, then according to Lt. Dennis McKiver, it probably calls for no fishing at all for 12 months. That’s the usual term for abalone violations in Mendocino County.

If you have a question you would like to see answered in this column, e-mail it to CalOutdoors@dfg.ca.gov.

Photo: Wild pig and piglets. Credit: California Department of Fish and Game

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