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Beluga Parasite

February 19, 2014

A parasite called toxoplasma gondii is invading Arctic beluga whale populations thanks to global warming.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON:

A good climate for disease. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

800px-Belugaschule_1999-07-02 Ansgar Walk Wikipedia ccjpg

A group of belugas in Hudson Bay. (Credit: Ansgar Walk/Wikipedia)

In discussions of climate change, floods, droughts and storms get most of the attention. Molecular parasitologist Michael Grigg at the National Institutes of Health is more concerned with another threat: disease-causing pathogens.

GRIGG:

And with global warming, what is that doing? It’s breaking down these ecologic barriers, and you’re now seeing transmission of these parasites and these infectious diseases from old areas into new areas.

HIRSHON:

At the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he discussed Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that’s carried by cats and is sensitive to cold, yet is now infecting beluga whales and people in the Arctic. With pathogens now showing up in unexpected places, he says health officials and scientists have to be vigilant about monitoring disease outbreaks in both wildlife and people. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.