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#HealthCheck: Are You Eating Tuberculosis Infected Meat?

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A message which read “If you see bubbles and white spots in animal meat, please avoid eating it. It is animal TB and very dangerous” is being shared by many on Facebook. 

WHAT IS TB?

Tuberculosis (TB) is a life-threatening infectious disease which has remained a major public health challenge for many countries including Nigeria. Tuberculosis is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis which primarily affects the lungs.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises this disease as one of the top 10 global causes of death, with Nigeria labelled a high burden country.

It is estimated that 407,000 people have TB, every year, in Nigeria. 

As tuberculosis is an infectious disease, it can, therefore, be spread from person to person through the air by coughing, sneezing or spitting. In addition to this, what most people are not aware of is that a form of this infamous disease, can, indeed, be contracted from animals. This includes ingesting meat of infected animals. Hence we can say that this much of the claim is true.

Tuberculosis can actually be transferred to humans from animals!

BUT ONLY IF YOU EAT RAW MEAT OR WORK IN AN ABATTOIR!

According to a study by the Center for Disease and Control (CDC), most ordinary people are at very low risk of being infected. The individuals who are at greater risk would include those who work closely with animals, especially cattle or their products such as milk, meat and hides.

For example, after slaughter, a study identified that Nigerian butchers would wear little to no protective attire while they processed offal from diseased carcasses with their bare hands. This put many of them at direct risk of contracting bTB. This same study concluded that 6% – 7% of traders and butchers in Nigeria were infected with TB.

Nevertheless World Organisation for Animal Health says that “the bacteria can also lie dormant in the host without causing disease”. It is further important to note that this disease is a treatable one. 

Also, tuberculosis can be transferred from the host to humans if you drink unpasteurised milk or ingest raw or partially cooked meat or animal products. Fully cooking meat until there is no visible pink meat, as noted by research, effectively kills most bacteria, including disease-causing bacteria such as TB.

[pasteurisation is the process of applying sufficient heat to food so as to kill bacteria]. 

OUR CONCLUSION?

The presence of bubbles in the meat in the picture does not make it inherently unsafe. What could be dangerous is when you drink unpasteurised milk in the form of ‘fura da nono’, or eat offal, ‘inu eran’ that is not properly cooked, or do not practise good sanitary methods when handling uncooked meat!

Zuwaira Hashim graduated with a first-class honours graduate in BMedSci in Health and Human Sciences at the University of Sheffield. What is more, she was awarded with the Kerry Ann Salt Memorial prize for her outstanding performance in the School of Nursing and Midwifery. Her successes in academia are matched by efforts in the field of public health. This is evidenced by yet another award- Global Engagement Award- from the Sheffield Council for her contributions to the Public Health Intelligence team of Sheffield. She is particularly interested in Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and its policy implementation in Nigeria, having witnessed firsthand the perils faced by the health sector. She currently uses this passion and experience in the field of public health to educate the public via health articles and fact-checks.

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