Alaska Newsreader: Toxoplasmosis parasite found in Beaufort Sea beluga killed by hunters

AnchorageFebruary 18, 2014 

An Inupiat hunter coils the rope of a subsistence net after pulling in a beluga whale at Cape Nome as the sun sets Nov. 8, 2005.

LAURENT DICK — AP archive 2005

The parasite that causes toxoplasmosis in humans, commonly known as the "kitty litter disease" that's potentially dangerous in pregnant women, has been identified in the tissues of a Beaufort Sea beluga whale killed by Inuit hunters. Some scientists believe the spread of the parasite is related to climate change.

From CBC News:

"Because this parasite can cause serious diseases in people, we need to pay attention to its emergence in the North as a new potential threat to food safety," said Michael Grigg, who co-authored the research.

Grigg, a molecular parasitologist with the U.S. National Institutes of Health and an adjunct professor at [the University of British Columbia], said that while traditional Inuit processing and cooking methods should kill the parasite, vulnerable people such as pregnant women should be "extra vigilant" about handling and eating raw whale meat.

A UBC news release noted that the parasite is "not a major concern" for healthy people.

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