Infected moose meat safe to eat

Posted: Friday, October 01, 2004

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Hunters have been showing up at the Department of Fish and Game with moose meat or organs infected with tapeworms but officials say the parasites should not harm people.

Game officials say the meat is infested with one of the three tapeworms typically found in Alaska moose and caribou. While they might not be appealing to the eye, they should not affect taste or hurt the meat.

The tapeworms typically appear as white, fluid-filled cysts, sometimes the size of golf balls. Humans cannot become infected with any of the three tapeworms by eating the meat of moose or caribou, according to Fish and Game veterinarian Kimberlee Beckmen. People can, however, contract one form through dogs if the dog eats raw game meat.

Most hunters want to know two things, she said.

''They come in and ask what is it and is it safe to eat the meat,'' said Beckmen. ''That's always the question they really want to know.''

One reason more hunters may be seeing tapeworm cysts, Beckmen said, is the expanded antlerless moose hunt on the Tanana Flats. Hunters have killed more than 400 cow and calf moose, mostly cows, as part of a hunt to reduce the moose population on the Tanana Flats.

Many of the kills have been old cows. The older a moose is, the more chance it has to become infested with parasites, Beckmen said.

''The longer a moose lives the more it picks up,'' she said. ''We're seeing some incredibly old cows being taken, probably in their late teens.''

Moose acquire all three forms of the tapeworms by ingesting eggs that have been laid on plants by wolves who have developed tapeworms after eating raw moose meat with cysts in it.

The head of the tapeworm emerges in the wolf's digestive tract and attaches to the wall of the intestine. After about a month, the tapeworm is developed enough to start producing egg packets, which contain hundreds of thousands of eggs and are shed in wolf feces.

As feces dry on the ground and are broken up by rain or snow, the eggs get spread on the ground and contaminate plants.

''When the plants come up in spring the eggs are on the plants and the moose eat them,'' Beckmen said.

The eggs are extremely resistant to freezing and can survive for years, she said.

None of the three tapeworms appears to have negative effects on the moose, Beckmen said.

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