Undercooked or raw meat is a major risk factor for parasitic infections like trichinellosis, salmonella, and listeria, but latest research has found an even more sinister link between consuming contaminated meat and health risks.
A study recently published in the International Journal of Cancer suggests that one particular parasite found in undercooked meat and dirty water may be associated with a rare form of brain cancer in humans. (Related: The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.)
Research led by James Hodge, of the American Cancer Society, and Anna Coghill, of the department of cancer epidemiology at the H. Lee Moffit Cancer Center and Research Institute in Florida, identified Toxoplasma gondii, or T. gondii, as a parasite that can cause cysts and inflammation in the brain, which can in turn lead to highly fatal gliomas.
The study observed over 750 people in the United States and Norway, and found that there was a positive association between those who were positive to T. gondii antibodies, signifying that they had recently been infected with the parasite, and risk of gliomas. What’s more, the association was stronger for those who had a greater number of the antibodies.
However, this does not mean that everyone that had been exposed to the parasite is at equal risk, the study’s authors said in a statement to CNN.
“This does not mean that T. gondii definitely causes glioma in all situations. Some people with glioma have no T. gondii antibodies, and vice versa,” Hodge said. “The findings do suggest that individuals with higher exposure to the T. gondii parasite are more likely to go on to develop glioma,” added Coghill. “However, it should be noted that the absolute risk of being diagnosed with a glioma remains low, and these findings need to be replicated in a larger and more diverse group of individuals.”
So what is T. gondii and how does one get it? It’s a common parasite that usually infects people when they ingest raw meat or water from raw meat, but can also occur from exposure to contaminated cat feces and even be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy. The ensuing infection is called Toxoplasmosis, which can cause flu-like symptoms in some, while most never have any signs or symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Exposure to this parasite is rather common. The CDC estimates that about 11% of American population aged 6 and older had been infected at some point.
For more, check out this list of foods that are most likely to give you food poisoning and 7 Food Safety Tips Doctors Want You to Know. Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter to get the latest food safety and health news delivered straight to your inbox.