Toxoplasma causes inflammation of the retina. It is a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which can cause this retinal inflammation in all people, but it is those in the high risk groups of the elderly, babies and the immuno-compromised who are more susceptible.
Although not a notifiable disease, Toxoplasmosis can be contracted from the consumption of raw or undercooked meats which contain the parasite. This is the finding from a study recently published in the Australia New Zealand Journal of Public Health.
In the study lamb mince was collected from a specific supermarket three times a week over a six months period by Flinders University researchers.
The samples were from both organic and conventionally farmed animals in South Australia.
Using real time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) the DNA from the total of 79 samples was extracted and at least one third of the samples detected Toxoplasma gondii. None of the samples tested had Campylobacter jejuni, or any Salmonella species detected, so hygiene in the slaughter process was good.
The researcher believe that the infection of the animals, and therefore the meat, occurred in the pasture not in the slaughter or handling processes.
The researchers said; “Although the meat was purchased at one supermarket, located in South Australia, our findings are likely to be generalizable, because Australian supermarket retailers purchase their lamb across a range of farms throughout the country. Specific messaging that is sensitive to consumer cooking preferences may be helpful to educate the Australian population of the risk related to consuming undercooked lamb, which applies particularly to pregnant women, the elderly and immuno-compromised persons.”
The leader of the research; Flinders strategic research professor, Justine Smith, said that although these findings were new for Australia,it is expected that there would be comparable results in other parts of the world.
Other meats, and especially those eaten rare, will be included in the next phase of the study.
It is important to note that even if a meat does contain Toxoplasma gondii DNA, human infection will not necessarily occur, especially if that meat is cooked before consumption.