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Mothers-to-be warned over meat parasite

Pregnant women are being put in danger by a parasite found in Irish meat.

The bug also presents a threat to people with weakened immune systems and is present in chicken, pigs, sheep and deer due to be slaughtered for the meat market.

A study by Teagasc, the Irish agriculture food development body, has shown that the parasite is in 40pc of sheep, 12pc of deer, 4pc of pigs and 1.5pc of chickens ready for slaughter.

The bug -- toxoplasma gondii -- leads to toxoplasmosis which can damage the brain and other organs of a baby in the womb where the mother becomes infected. It can also cause eye problems and brain damage in people with weakened immune systems.

Consumers are being warned to make sure they cook meat to a safe internal temperature of 63C for beef, lamb and veal, roasts and steak.

In the case of pork, mince meat and wild game, the temperature should be 71C and for poultry it should be 82C.

There have been 171 reported cases of people catching the infection here since 2004. This was after handling or eating raw or undercooked meat which came from infected animals.


The infection can also be caught from handling contaminated cat faeces.

The symptoms are generally like a mild flu and can include body or muscle aches, a high temperature, tiredness, nausea and a sore throat.

If a pregnant woman contracts the infection she can be given medication to reduce the risk to her baby. Teagasc has also warned people to take precautions while handling meat products.

Hands should be washed and surfaces and utensils cleaned after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry.

When a mother becomes infected the parasite can be passed on to her baby in the womb or during delivery.

If the infection happens in the first three months of pregnancy and is untreated, the risk to the baby is between 14 and 17pc and is usually severe.

If it goes untreated in the last three months of pregnancy the risk rises to between 59-65pc, but the infection in the baby is milder. The infection is fatal for about 10pc of those babies who contract it while still in the womb.