Did you know that in the United States alone over 60 million adults and children currently have a parasite called Toxoplasma living inside their bodies?
This is a a really large number of people and we’re talking about a parasite that makes the list of 4 Parasites That Want To Invade Your Brain! Brain parasites are nothing to take lightly. Luckily for most people with a normally functioning, healthy immune system, Toxoplasma thankfully doesn’t cause any unwanted symptoms. However, for pregnant women and anyone with a sub-par immune system, toxoplasmosis can be an extremely serious health concern.
The topic of pregnancy and cats is a reason why you may already be somewhat familiar with Toxoplasma gondii and toxoplasmosis. Also called the “cat parasite,” Toxoplasma gondii certainly leaves many questions to be answered when it comes to cats and pregnancy. Do pregnant women and cats mix? What are the symptoms of toxoplasmosis? Is there a toxoplasmosis rash? Can toxoplasmosis really make people more prone to self-directed violence? I’m about to answer all these questions and more.
What Is Toxoplasmosis?
When it comes to foodborne illness in the United States, toxoplasmosis is a top cause of death. The CDC also considers toxoplasmosis one of the five Neglected Parasitic Infections or NPIs.
What is toxoplasmosis? Toxoplasmosis is caused by an infection with a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, also known as Toxoplasma, T. gondii or Toxo for short.
Toxoplasma gondii can be found in humans and several types of animals. But it can only reproduce in the conditions provided by a feline gut. So the parasite lives inside of a cat, reproduces inside of cats and then is excreted in cat feces. According to the CDC, “the only known definitive hosts for Toxoplasma gondii are members of family Felidae (domestic cats and their relatives).”
Aside from litter boxes and anywhere else cat feces can be found, Toxoplasma gondii can also live in contaminated water, soil and dust as well as raw meat, undercooked meat, unwashed fruits and unwashed vegetables. There are three major genotypes of T gondii: type I, type II, and type III. In the United States as well as Europe, the type II genotype is responsible for the majority of cases of toxoplasmosis babies contract in the womb.
Toxoplasma gondii affects about one-third of the worldwide population. It depends upon the immune system of the specific person being affected, but most people have zero to mild toxoplasmosis symptoms. However, symptoms can also be severe in some cases. An article published in the monthly, peer-reviewed medical journal JAMA Psychiatry also reveals that in two clinical studies, mothers with a toxoplasmosis infection appeared to have an increased risk of self-directed violence such as suicide or suicide attempts.
Toxoplasmosis Signs & Symptoms (in Humans & Cats)
Cat virus or human virus — toxoplasmosis definitely affects both species in large numbers. Most healthy humans won’t show any symptoms of toxoplasmosis even when they have it. When humans do show symptoms they are similar to flu symptoms and can include:
Swollen lymph nodes
For people with weakened immune systems, signs of toxoplasmosis are likely to be more intense and may also include:
Blurred vision due to severe inflammation of your retina (ocular toxoplasmosis)
Lung problems that can resemble tuberculosis or Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia (PJP), which is a common infection that occurs in people with AIDS.
Even if a mother doesn’t show any signs of infection, she may contract toxoplasmosis during her pregnancy or right before and can have a child with congenital toxoplasmosis. When a baby contracts toxoplasmosis while in the womb, it can be born with the following issues:
Severe eye infections
According to Mayo Clinic, not many babies who have toxoplasmosis when they are born show any signs of the infection. It’s even common for children who are born with toxoplasmosis not to have any obvious symptoms until they are in their teenager years, or even older! These latent symptoms can include serious eye infections, mental disability and hearing loss.
Cats are well-known carriers of toxoplasmosis. Cats can get toxoplasmosis by ingesting other cat feces, from infected soil or from any other way they come in contact with the T gondii parasite. Toxoplasmosis in cats is more likely to reveal itself in more obvious clinical symptoms compared to dogs. While dogs can be infected with the parasite, they are not carriers or passers of the parasite. Cats are the only mammals that pass Toxoplasma through their feces. Symptoms are typically at their worst in kittens who get the parasitic infection while in the womb. Due to toxoplasmosis infection, kittens can be stillborn or die before they are weaned.
Wondering if your kitten or cat has toxoplasmosis? Symptoms of toxoplasmosis in cats can include:
lethargy or depression
seizures or tremors
partial or complete paralysis
loss of appetite
inflammation of tonsils and/or eyes
However, like with humans, it won’t always be apparent that your cat is carrying the parasite. Yet it infects essentially all cats that spend any time whatsoever outdoors.
If your dog is infected with toxoplasmosis, symptoms are similar to cat toxoplasmosis symptoms. Dogs can acquire the infection from ingesting cat feces or from digging around in infected soil.