In the last decade, there have been multiple studies on the benefits of cat ownership. Many of these studies focus on the impact of cat ownership on mental health. These have revealed that there is a link between cat ownership and a reduced likelihood of suffering from loneliness, stress, anxiety, and depression. These studies have very much shown the positive aspects of having a cat in their home, but there are also some negatives to owning a cat. For example, did you know that if you own a cat, there is a strong likelihood that you are carrying a parasite?
An Overview of the Toxoplasma Parasite
According to Inverse, a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii can pass from your cat’s poo into your body. This is extremely common as around two billion people around the world carry this parasite. This means that there is a 25 percent chance of a cat owner having it in their body. Despite this being such a common parasite, many people are not aware of what Toxoplasma is and how it is contracted. It is related to a parasite called plasmodium, which is the parasite responsible for malaria. The difference is that plasmodium can only survive within the red blood cells and liver cells. On the other hand, Toxoplasma is not as fussy as it is happy to live on almost any type of cell type.
One of the problems that scientists have in researching how this parasite spreads and how they can treat it is that it is extremely difficult to isolate the Toxoplasma parasite from the cells that it has infected. Now, there is some research into finding methods to create samples with a greater amount of the Toxoplasma parasite so that scientists have better samples to investigate. Incidences of humans being infected by toxoplasma are higher in some countries than others. For example, Anses estimates that around 50 percent of the French population are infected by this parasite. Rates of infection are also high in other parts of Europe. The alarming fact is that once a person becomes infected with this parasite, it will remain in their body for the rest of their life. The good news is that humans are not the natural host for this parasite. Naturally, Toxoplasma will cycle between cats and the animals that cats eat.
The Toxoplasma Cycle
When a cat has been infected by Toxoplasma, the parasites lay eggs within the feces of the cat. These eggs are called oocysts and they can live in the ground for several years. Many animals, such as crocodiles, birds, and mice, eat from the ground, and they then become hosts to the parasites. The next stage in this unique and fascinating cycle is that a cat will eat the animal that has ingested the oocysts. Once the oocysts are inside the cat’s body, the parasite awakens. The cycle then begins all over again.
The Toxoplasmosis Infection in Humans
Although the most common way that humans contract this parasite is through contact with cat feces, this is not the only way that humans can become infected. It is also possible to contract Toxoplasma through rare or uncooked meat products if the meat is infected with the parasite. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also notes that it is possible to contract this parasite from receiving an organ transplant from an infected person or via the womb. The infection caused by contracting toxoplasma is called toxoplasmosis. Generally, this parasitic infection is not particularly dangerous for humans. The worst-case scenario is that you would feel as though you had a mild dose of flu. This parasite considers humans an intermediate host, and it doesn’t want its host to die. The parasite only becomes dangerous if the oocysts begin to fail.
Toxoplasmosis in Pregnancy
However, it is important to note that Toxoplasma is a dangerous parasite to an unborn child. This is because a baby only has its mother’s antibodies to protect it while it is in the womb. It is the mother’s T-cells that protect the cat against most infections and prevent them from passing through to the fetus. This is not the case with Toxoplasma as it can get to the fetus via the mother’s bloodstream and their mother’s T-cells cannot protect them from this. The baby would need its own T-cells to fight off this parasite. If the fetus is infected, then the oocysts multiply rapidly, and this can lead to blindness and brain damage. For this reason, pregnant women are advised to avoid contact with cat feces at all times. This means that they must get someone else to empty their cat’s litter tray, if possible. If this is not possible, it is recommended that they use gloves when completing this task. Another recommendation is that they do not allow their cat to sleep with them during their pregnancy. This is because the fecal matter is carried from the litter tray on a cat’s paws and pass onto the bedding.
Toxoplasma Health Risk Studies
Toxoplasma has been at the center of many studies as researchers in a variety of fields believe there are links between being infected with this parasite and developing a range of conditions. Some studies suggest that there is a link between this parasite and human personality and behavior. Further studies have hinted at a link between Toxoplasma and both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The studies say that there are differences in the ways in which it impacts the personality of men and women. Overall, there is a risk to all cat owners that they may contract this parasite, and it is possible that you are infected with it without even realizing. You can reduce your risk of contracting Toxoplasma by taking precautions when emptying the litter tray, which is especially important if you are pregnant.