Monday, December 28, 2009

Eating Bear is Not a Good Idea

Travellers' gut reaction

French infected after dining on bear meat

                                                      Grizzly Bear

                                                      Photo By:

For the second time in four years, health authorities in France have identified an outbreak of the parasitical illness trichinosis from an unusual source: bear meat devoured by French travellers in northern Canada.

The grizzly that ended up as steaks, stew and even "grizzly-bear Bolognese" had been threatening an Inuit camp on the Nunavut shore when it was shot by rangers, with the carcass later divided up among locals and visitors.

In 2005, 19 French travellers got sick after eating black bear in Labrador, while two others caught trichinosis from a polar bear in Greenland a few years earlier.

A Paris-based expert who investigated the outbreaks attributes the spate of bear-meat illness among his compatriots to the French culinary penchant for trying unconventional meats, and either eating them raw or cooking them very little.

One of the French adventurers -- on a sailing trip across the Arctic -- ended up hospitalized for 11 days after digesting the tainted food in September, though she avoided the most serious heart and brain complications of the infection.

"It's quite fascinating to see that French people seem quite fond of bear meat," Dr. Jean Dupouy-Camet, head of a trichinosis-tracking program, said in an interview from Paris. "French people travelling abroad like to consume exotic meats ... [And] they are usually fond of raw meat: steak tartare."

But the latest episode was not confined to the French sailors. Members of another North-West Passage sailing expedition, headed by a Canadian, ate some of the same meat and two of them also became ill.

"It was an odd thing. We ate the bear, and the grizzly kind of came back to haunt us," said Cameron Dueck, a Manitoba native who led the Open Passage expedition. "It was incredible cramping of muscles, and real fever: freezing and sweating, freezing and sweating."

Mr. Dueck, who lives in Hong Kong, said he had only just finished drug therapy for the infection.

Meanwhile, newly published federal research indicates the parasite worm that causes the disease, trichinella, is present in 15 Canadian species, from walrus to cougars.

The worm enters the gastro-intestinal system, then migrates to other parts of the body. Most patients have few or relatively mild symptoms, but it can sometimes cause serious complications, including cardiac infections and brain damage. It used to be found widely in pork, but farming practices have more or less eliminated that threat in the industrialized world, Dr. Dupouy-Camet said.

The disease is endemic in northern Canada, though. The rate of 11 cases per 100,000 in the native population is 200 times the national Canadian rate, according to a paper just published in the online journal Eurosurveilance by the French physician and Alvin Gajadhar, a Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) veterinarian.

It is most common for Inuit to contract the disease from eating walrus, which they consume fermented, frozen or air-dried, as opposed to bear, which they cook.

The five French sailors, on the yacht Baloum Gwen, were crossing the NorthWest Passage from the Aleutian Islands west of Alaska to Greenland in the east. The contamination was traced back to grizzly bear meat


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