Medical Mondays: Trichinosis and Morgellons Syndrome

Ask The Book Doctor!

Another question from fans of ITW’s “The Big Thrill” along with a contribution from a reader of this blog (thanks!). If you’re a writer or a fan of books, TV shows, or movies and have a medical-themed question you’d like to see answered in this weekly column, check out the submission guidelines at the bottom of this column!


Q. I understand that pigs are engineered so well to collect, absorb, and harbor poisons, toxins, and pollutants that they can kill and eat poisonous snakes with their venom without harming themselves. Additionally, I hear they harbor trichinella spirella roundworms, which can cause debilitating trichinosis and can survive temperatures close to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, and the AIDS-like heat resistant porcine endogenous retroviruses. Are there any studies confirming the danger to human health by consuming pork? Could a deadly poison be manufactured from the hodgepodge of toxins found in pigs and then after giving a human the deadly concoction can the fatality be attributed to eating pork? Elvis S.

Trichinella LifeCycle, Courtesy of CDC.

A. Pigs are interesting creatures. Wild pigs can eat snakes but are not immune to the venom. Smaller pigs will die from snakebites, but a 1500-pound pig is so massive that there simply is not enough venom to kill it. Trichinella spiralis is the most common of the eight roundworm species in the United States and most prevalent in pigs. Heating to 145 degrees kills all forms of trichinella instantly. So, when cooking pork, an internal cooking temperature of 165 degrees for at least 15 seconds is recommended. On the other hand, although freezing kills T. spiralis, it will not kill T. nativa, found in the Arctic in polar bears and other wild game occasionally brought back by hunters (a warning to Arctic hunters–polar bear liver is toxic!). Fortunately, mild trichinosis in most people is harmless and asymptomatic. But if, after eating pork, you experience severe gastro-intestinal issues that last more than three days or sudden swelling, particularly around the eyes, contact your doctor.

Q. Where do you think Morgellons syndrome originated from? Deb D.

A. Morgellons syndrome has not yet been accepted as a real disease. The term was coined to refer to something that Centers for Disease Control (CDC) refers to as “unexplained dermopathy.” Those purported to have it generally complain of disfiguring sores and crawling sensations on and under the skin. The CDC is currently investigating whether Morgellons should be classified as new disease.

As to its origins, Morgellons was discovered and named by Mary Leitao, a medical lab technician, whose son developed unexplained sores that contained different colored fibers. When doctors were unable to diagnose the condition, she founded the Morgellons Research Foundation, which was fostered by other self-identified sufferers.

Some physicians, as well as the Mayo Clinic, which conducted a study, concluded that Morgellons was simply a form of delusional parasitosis, a form of psychosis exhibited by patients who are convinced that there are parasites crawling on or below their skin, when, in fact, they may be imaginary. The Morgellons Research Foundation itself has not yet been able to pinpoint the source of the condition and its symptoms. This is still being researched and studied.

Medical doctors did not invent the human body and are challenged and intrigued when new or unique clusters of symptoms arise. As with any “new” condition, there can be many misdiagnoses, consideration given towards mental illness, or other conclusions that leave physicians simply baffled. The door remains open on this one for now.

Attention writers! If you’re working on a book, script, or article and need quick insight or advice on a medical condition that affects a character or impacts a storyline, please email your question to I’ll post answers to two questions every Monday on this blog!

Due the volume of requests received, I am not able to provide personal responses. Questions should pertain to characters or stories you’re writing, books you’re reading, TV shows/movies you’re watching, or health issues in the news. If you have a question about a personal health issue, please contact your doctor.