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Kitty litter disease found in beluga whales

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Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease most often found in cat feces is now being blamed for the death of more than 400 gray seals off Cape Breton Island in Canada back in 2012. It has also been detected in beluga whales caught in the Beaufort Sea by Inuit hunters according Stephen Raverty, a veterinary pathologist with the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture and Lands’ Animal Health Center.

Generally called “kitty litter disease,” because it can be contracted by humans while cleaning out their cats’ litterboxes, taxolpasmosis can cause blindness and miscarriages in humans and can kill people with weakened immune systems. It has become known as a characteristic infection in people with AIDS. It is now feared that it could infect Arctic residents who eat the diseased whales as well.

Spread of toxoplasmosis (which was never found in the Artic before) is being blamed on global warming which is causing more and more of the regions ice to melt, thus allowing the parasites to venture further north as natural barriers continue to breakdown, and exposing them to a whole new range of animals.

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, a molecular parasitologist with the U.S. National Institutes of Health and an adjunct professor at UBC, who co-authored a new study into the phenomena. However he added 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.

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