N.W.T.’s chief doctor in the dark about beluga parasite

The Northwest Territories' chief medical officer of health has no advice for people eating beluga that may contain an infectious parasite because he hasn’t seen the study, but he says there have been no reported cases of infection in the N.W.T. in 20 years.

Dr. André Corriveau says he has no advice for people eating beluga that may contain a new, infectious parasite, because he hasn’t yet seen the study that identified it.

“At this point, it's one study, perhaps one animal out of all the ones they tested,” Corriveau said. “We need to see the study before we make an advisory and we will do that as soon as we can."

But one thing Corriveau can confirm: no cases of human infection has been reported in the N.W.T. in the past 20 years.

“We haven’t had any human cases of toxoplasma gondii since I’ve been working in the N.W.T.,” Corriveau says.

Last week, researchers from the University of British Columbia presented their findings at a conference for the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The researchers say beluga in the Western Arctic tested positive for a parasite called toxoplasma gondii.

The parasite doesn’t usually make healthy people sick, but it can cause serious health issues for pregnant women and people with an already weakened immune system.

That has some people in the N.W.T.'s Delta region concerned about whether it's safe to eat beluga muktuk. So far, no advisories have been issued.

“We are certainly going to want to know how the research was done and what the level of infectiousness might have been before we can provide specific advice to the communities and work with them to provide guidance in terms of eating beluga meat,” Corriveau says.

Corriveau says he was aware of the research but expected to be notified once it was complete, along with the communities that could be affected.

Instead, he read about it in the Guardian newspaper and on the BBC.

He says the researchers have since promised him a copy of the study.