Causal Agents:

Trichinellosis (trichinosis) is caused by nematodes (roundworms) of the genus Trichinella. In addition to the classical agent T. spiralis (found worldwide in many carnivorous and omnivorous animals), several other species of Trichinella are now recognized, including T. pseudospiralis (mammals and birds worldwide), T. nativa (Arctic bears), T. nelsoni (African predators and scavengers), T. britovi (carnivores of Europe and western Asia), and T. papuae (wild and domestic pigs of Papua New Guinea and Thailand). Trichinella zimbabwensis is found in crocodiles in Africa but to date there are no known associations of this species with human disease.

Life Cycle:

Depending on the classification used, there are several species of Trichinella: T. spiralis, T. pseudospiralis, T. nativa, T. murelli, T. nelsoni, T. britovi, T. papuae, and T. zimbabwensis, all but the last of which have been implicated in human disease. Adult worms and encysted larvae develop within a single vertebrate host, and an infected animal serves as a definitive host and potential intermediate host. A second host is required to perpetuate the life cycle of Trichinella. The domestic cycle most often involved pigs and anthropophilic rodents, but other domestic animals such as horses can be involved. In the sylvatic cycle, the range of infected animals is great, but animals most often associated as sources of human infection are bear, moose and wild boar.


Trichinella life cycle

Trichinellosis is caused by the ingestion of undercooked meat containing encysted larvae (except for T. pseudospiralis and T. papuae, which do not encyst) of Trichinella species The number 1. After exposure to gastric acid and pepsin, the larvae are released from the cysts The number 2 and invade the small bowel mucosa where they develop into adult worms The number 3. Females are 2.2 mm in length; males 1.2 mm. The life span in the small bowel is about four weeks. After 1 week, the females release larvae The number 4 that migrate to striated muscles where they encyst The number 5. Diagnosis is usually made based on clinical symptoms, and is confirmed by serology or identification of encysted or non-encysted larvae in biopsy or autopsy specimens.

Life cycle image and information courtesy of DPDx.

Page last reviewed: November 15, 2019