Each of the most common parasites in the world affect many millions of people.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 60 million Americans are infected with the Toxoplasma Gondii parasite that results in toxoplasmosis.
When it comes to food borne illness in the United States, toxoplasmosis is the third leading cause of death and the leading cause of blindness.
While it’s bad in the United States, in Europe, almost everyone is carrying around these parasites. The resulting infections are at epidemic levels.
These parasites are everywhere.
Most people think of this particular bad guy as a “cat poop parasite” because that’s the most well-known transmitter of the parasite. However, that’s definitely not the only way you can pick up this toxic invader!
You should know if you become infected with this most common parasite, and you have compromised immune system or you are pregnant, you can become very sick.
Toxoplasmosis is not transferred from one person to another except during natural childbirth it can be transferred from mother to baby.
There are two main ways to become infected…
- Animal to human
- Contaminated food
Food contamination can occur from eating food that is raw or undercooked. It can also occur if you handle infected food products and do not properly wash your hands.
Utensils, cutting boards, and cross contamination of food also occur.
The cat is the definitive host for Toxoplasma. However, it can infect rats, mice, and other rodents. It makes them go loopy and do strange things, like putting themselves in the path of a cat and not taking proper evasive action. Unfortunately, it may also make the cats go a little crazy. Making it behave in very strange ways.
Intriguing research on infected humans suggests that chronic infection causes subtle behavior changes in people. Toxoplasmosis in humans can lead to weird and self-destructive behavior, causing subtle behavior changes that can affect reaction times, guilt, and risk taking.
Five Major Clinical Forms of Toxoplasmosis
This most common parasite can cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), neurological damage, and can affect the heart, liver, and eyes (causing blindness)
- A mild asymptomatic form where there are generally no noticeable symptoms. Occasionally there will be swollen lymph glands. Mild toxoplasmosis is almost always found by accident.
- A slightly more severe form that may cause mild fever and swollen lymph nodes. It can mimic mononucleosis but a negative Paul Bunnell test will rule out mono.
- Neurological abnormalities that can include sore throat, headache, stiff neck, and even a rash. There is raised pressure on the cerebral spinal fluid which is indicative of the brain having a significant invasion of toxoplasmosis.
- Acute febrile illness with a swollen liver and spleen combined with a rash that covers a good portion of the body. There can be complications that result in eye inflammations, and myocardium inflammations. In cases where there is a compromised immune system, liver inflammation can occur.
- Congenital Toxoplasmosis is very serious form and often results in the development of epilepsy or mental disability. There can also be paralysis.
Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis
- Mild digestive symptoms
- Diarrhea – acute and chronic Anorexia
- Inflammation of the digestive tract
- Abdominal bloating
- Abdominal pain
- Pale stools
- Fatty stools
- Foul-smelling stools
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal cramps
- Weight loss
- Epigastric cramps
Considering the dangers of toxo, prevention is critical, especially in the cases of children, pregnant or nursing women, and those with compromised immune systems.
To avoid this most common parasite, there are several general sanitation and food safety steps you can take to reduce your chances of becoming infected with T. gondii.
14 Tips to Avoid T. Gondii Contamination
- Cook food to safe temperatures. A food thermometer should be used to measure the internal temperature of cooked meat. Do not sample meat until it is cooked.
- Beef, lamb, and veal roasts and steaks should be cooked to at least 145°F throughout.
- Pork, ground meat, and wild game should be cooked to 160°F. 4. Whole poultry should be cooked to 180°F in the thigh.
- Peel or wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating.
- Wash cutting boards, dishes, counters, utensils, and hands with hot soapy water after contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood, or unwashed fruits or vegetables.
- Freeze meat for several days before cooking to greatly reduce chance of infection.
- Avoid drinking untreated drinking water, particularly when traveling in less developed countries.
- Do not get a new cat while you are pregnant.
- Wear gloves when gardening and during any contact with soil or sand because it might be contaminated with cat feces that contain Toxoplasma. Wash hands thoroughly after gardening or contact with soil or sand.
- Keep outdoor sandboxes covered to prevent pets using them as a latrine.
- Feed cats only canned or dried commercial food or well-cooked table food, not raw or undercooked meats.
- Change the litter box daily if you own a cat. The Toxoplasma parasite does not become infectious until 1 to 5 days after it is shed in a cat’s feces.
- If you are immune compromised, avoid changing cat litter if possible. If no one else can perform the task, wear disposable gloves, and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water afterwards.
- Keep cats indoors and do not adopt or handle stray cats, especially kittens.
There are many common parasites most often found in humans and animals. Taking a few simple steps will lower your risk of contamination and the issues that can result.