Hunting can expose hunters to parasites that can wreak havoc.
Many of the parasites that threaten outdoorsmen can be avoided by wearing heavy rubber gloves and long clothing while cleaning and transporting your game. Goggles or glasses are also recommended to those who want to take more precautions. Children are more susceptible because they don’t produce as much parasite-killing stomach acid as adults.
Most of the parasites are found in the intestines and feces, so extra caution should be taken when gutting an animal.
Prescription medications can be used to kill most of these bugs, but sometimes it needs to be taken twice, as the eggs aren’t always killed. Some parasitic worms can live inside a person for up to 45 years, causing a multitude of problems that can be fatal – so medications should be your first option.
However, your diet can also help create an environment that is not conducive to or work against a parasite’s survival. Unfortunately, the diet that most people follow will help a parasite thrive because most unhealthy foods create an acidic state inside the body. These foods consist of all meats, dairy, flour, sugar, soft drinks, mustard and most carbohydrates. Eating too many refined sugars turns the friendly bacteria of your intestines mutate into candida (a fungus), which helps parasites prosper and stay in the intestines instead of passing through.
Think drinking liquor will help? Guess again, as parasites thrive on humans who use alcohol and even tobacco products. And don’t bother making a stronger cup of coffee. These suckers love a fresh brew, as caffeine temporarily lowers the immune system and gives parasites time to attack you. Taking aspirin will help the pain some, but at what costs because this medicine helps the parasites survive, as well.
So what can help? Well, having a healthy, strong immune system is important. Pineapples and pineapple juice is one of the best foods to assist the battle. Others include garlic, onions, figs, pumpkin seeds, raw green veggies, almonds, radishes, raw cabbage, blackberries, black pepper and tomatoes. Drinking rose hip and senna tea may help, as well. The body remains in its natural alkaline state of around 7.4 PH when these foods are consumed regularly, and many parasites cannot live when the body is in the range of a 7.2-7.4 PH.
First of all, however, you need to be able to identify the carriers of a parasite. The animals that pose the highest risk are the omnivores, such as bears, hogs, turkeys, etc., because many parasites are picked up when eating dead animals. However, just about every game animal and many insects could be potential hosts.
For starters, most people know of ticks and their ability to carry lime disease, as well as other diseases. Fortunately, it is very rare for ticks to carry lime disease in the South, and less than 1 percent are carriers. But in places in the northeast part of the country, over 50 percent of ticks are infected. It usually takes 36 hours after a tick has been attached to someone for lime disease to be transmitted, so check your body carefully after hunting in a tick-infested area. Lime disease is usually spread by smaller ticks in the nymphal stage because they are harder to find on the body.
And we have all heard of the dangers of mosquitoes with West Nile when the summers get hot. Some types of flies carry around nasty parasites, too, but I want to focus this article more toward larger host, so now to the animals.
Many deer can have nasal bots, which are worms that get in the deer’s nasal cavity. Hunters come across these after a deer has been dead and the nasal bots try to exit the deer as the carcass cools. Luckily these are not a risk for humans, with the exception of having an unsettling feeling after seeing these grotesque creatures.
Hogs, on the other hand, can be more of a hazard. Just about every type of dangerous liver fluke, kidney worm, lung worm, stomach worm and whipworm can be living inside a hog, but the most commonly known threat is a round worm disease called trichinosis. This worm’s larvae get inside the hog meat and create cysts that keep it alive for up to 10 years. If the meat is properly cooked to a recommended 170 degrees Fahrenheit, the larvae will die. Also, freezing the meat to 5 degrees Fahrenheit for at least three weeks will kill the larvae.
If uncooked meat is consumed, the worms hatch within two days and wreak havoc in the stomach. Then the newly born larvae migrate to the muscles, causing severe pain. If too many larvae are present, they can attack the heart, killing you.
A common indicator of trichinosis is when the muscles of the eyes and jaw become infected. The body slowly recovers over several months, but if the larvae encapsulate themselves in a cyst they become permanent and resistant to medication. This parasites usually go undetected, and up to 300,000 people in the U.S. contract it every year.
The other dangerous condition in hogs is swine brucellosis and anthrax. It’s estimated that over 10 percent of wild hogs in eastern Texas have brucellosis. Once a hog catches this bacterium it becomes a carrier for life. It is very contagious to humans through blood contact with broken skin or uncooked meat. A person gets a flu-like symptoms that can be excruciatingly painful. This condition can be treated, but sometimes remains chronic.
On the other hand, anthrax is usually deadly to humans, and it’s been found in hogs in Louisiana. This is rare and only becomes a problem during the hottest times of the year. Hogs pick up anthrax infections from contaminated soil. If an area is known to have contaminated soil, avoid hogs during the summer months.
Rabbits should be safely handled, as well, for they can carry rabbit fever (tularemia), which is transmitted to humans through uncooked meat, bites and improper cleaning tactics. Tularemia can also be found in hogs, ticks, deer flies and other rodents. The disease has two forms in game animals, one being deadly. In one study, over 50 percent of hogs tested positive for tularemia infections in the study area. It’s also easily transmitted through bites. An ulcer will form at the location of the bite, so if you wound a rabbit while hunting, don’t pick it up to finish it off!
Duck hunters should be wary, too, as ducks and geese can potentially give you duck itch if you come in contact with the same water an infected bird swam in. This parasite becomes harmful to humans after it exits a duck, and enters and exits a snail. This particular worm cannot live in humans, so it just affects the skin, where it burrows in as the water dries on the skin. It causes a painful rash for two to seven days. Duck itch is only transmitted during warm months, but it can take up to 60 days after an infected duck has left the water for the process to complete through the snail and become active – looking for another duck or a hunter to jump on!
Ducks can also have a parasite called sarcocystis, which is known as rice breast. This parasite is not harmful to humans, and it can easily be identified by the rice-looking pieces throughout the breast meat. Some articles I read recommended not eating the meat and others said it was OK if fully cooked, so the choice is yours. But I would personally choose not to consume it.
Wild turkeys are birds that pose more of a risk than waterfowl. One study I read reported that all 106 birds tested for parasitic worms came up positive for some type of helminthes. Turkey meat can also carry salmonella. I plan on going turkey hunting for the first time this coming season, so I’m glad I know to be extra cautious when fooling with these birds.
Cats can be a risk, as well, as they can carry the parasite toxoplasma gondi. This parasite can only have a full life cycle in any type of cat, but do pose a threat to hunters – with bobcats being the primary concern. The cat leaves environmentally resistant oocysts in their droppings. These worms infect around 225,000 people a year in this country, accounting for around 750 deaths, as it attacks all the body organs. The problem is this parasite sometimes remains dormant within the body for years until something triggers it to awaken. Other infections or taking medicines for other illnesses can trigger the hatching of the dormant cyst. This worm can be contracted from wild hogs, as well.
Some of the less-risky animals are squirrels and possums. Possums have a lower body temperature, which keeps them free of some of the common parasites.
Good thing armadillos aren’t a favored game animal because I found out they carry leprosy. So if you’re one of those hunters who kills ’dillos because they are a nuisance, be very careful if moving the carcass. This isn’t an issue for me, as I love watching them scurry around when hunting.
Another well-known hazardous condition is the nutria itch that a person can get from the larva of the worm strongyloides myopotami, which lives in nutrias. The bad thing is this larva goes through the skin, so any contact with contaminated swamp water can lead to this maddening infection. I have been fortunate enough to have, thus far, avoided the nutria itch, but many of my friends have suffered from it and said it was a horrible experience. I’m now more cautious and wear boots instead of old shoes when crawfishing. Be careful when handling nutrias, as well. Gloves should be worn when cleaning them, as just touching the bacteria puts you at risk.
Of course, we all know of rabies. All warm-blooded animals have the potential to carry this disease. Raccoons, skunks, canines and bats are the most common carriers. Did you know that once symptoms occur in a person that it’s a 100-percent death rate? So if bitten by a critter foaming from the mouth or acting strangely, better not chance it: Go see a doc immediately, or in two to four weeks it could be lights out for you.
This article is not meant to discourage anyone from consuming any of Louisiana’s delicious game meat, but to inform of the dangers that exist if negligent. Any of these parasites can be easily prevented by using common sense and taking precautions when cleaning and cooking game. Approach every animal as if it has the potential to possess parasites and you will most likely never become the host.
Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part column about the risks parasites pose to hunters. Be sure and check out part one to read about Chauvin’s own experiences with a little-known but dangerous parasite.