Nunavik trichinosis outbreak puzzles health officials

Since early October, about 15 people have exhibited symptoms of the illness caused by a parasite sometimes found in the raw meat of animals Including walrus and polar bear.

People in Inukjuak, Que., got sick before walrus meat harvested

Since early October, about 15 people in Inukjuak, Que., have exhibited symptoms of trichinosis, an illness caused by a parasite sometimes found in the raw meat of animals Including walrus and polar bear. (Associated Press)

Health officials in Nunavik are trying to figure out the source of a trichinosis outbreak in Inukjuak, Que.

Since early October, about 15 people have exhibited symptoms of the illness caused by a parasite sometimes found in raw meat from walrus and polar bear. Two people were hospitalized.

Health officials are baffled because there's no evidence that the parasite came from walrus meat which is most often the cause for an outbreak.

Dr. Jean-Francois Proulx with Public Health in Kuujjuaq says Inukjuak has had a walrus meat testing program since the 1990s. Walrus meat harvested recently was tested and came back negative. And, he says, the parasite had made people sick even before walrus was harvested and consumed in the community.

"It's a challenge to come to a final answer in such a context but we think that it's important to document as much as we can — all potential avenues  in order to contribute to further knowledge on this very rare disease," he said.

Proulxsays the investigation will continue, but it could take a while.

In the meantime, officials are advising people to fully cook meat before consuming it, to kill any parasites.

Proulx says the two people recently hospitalized seem to be recovering. 

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