We’ve known for decades that pregnant women should not handle cat feces. There is an extreme risk of transmitting an illness called toxoplasmosis to the unborn baby. It’s a sickness that is found in cat waste. Recently, further scientific investigation has found a connection between the Toxoplasma gondii parasite and brain cancer in humans. Here is what we know about the study and what it could mean for cat owners.
What is Toxoplasma Gondii?
According to the Center for Disease Control, Toxoplasma Gondii is a single-celled parasite that can cause an infection called Toxoplasmosis. Infections of this parasite are estimated to persist in over 40 million Americans. The parasite can survive in the human body for years and in some, for life.
What are the symptoms?
Those who become infected may not show any symptoms of the condition. Those with a strong immune system may never develop illness from the parasite, however, those with compromised immune systems or who are pregnant are at risk of developing potentially serious health issues as a result.
How is Toxoplasmosis spread?
While the common belief is that the only way to get toxoplasmosis is through exposure to cat feces, this isn’t entirely true. The parasite can be ingested by humans and animals by eating meat that has been contaminated with it if the meat is undercooked. Toxoplasma infection happens most often in venison, lamb, pork, and shellfish. There are a few other ways to become infected. If you use contaminated utensils, cutting boards, or other items, the parasite can be ingested. Failure to wash your hands after handling contaminated meat or other items can also lead to infection. Toxoplasma gondii can also contaminate water. It can also be found in soil, on unwashed vegetables or fruits from a garden, or by exposure to cat feces when cleaning a litter box. Infected cats may also spread the parasite to other surfaces after walking through a litter box then wandering through the house or sitting on furniture or other areas.
What are the signs that you have become infected?
Although most people who are infected with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite do not present symptoms, some people may show signs of infection. These may vary but they include flu-like symptoms such as aches and pains, or swollen lymph glands. In severe cases, the organs of the body can become damaged including the eyes and the brain. The infection may reactivate at any time during the span of your life. It can cause eye pain, blurred vision, or a reduction in eyesight, red eyes, and tearing. There are medications available to help ease the discomfort and prevent it from progressing.
Toxoplasma gondii can cause brain cancer
Live Science reports that the Toxoplasma gondii parasite can lead to the development of brain cancer. Studies have shown that it increases the risk of developing this disease. The recent study results were released on January 11th in the International Journal of Cancer. The type of cancer that is caused by the T. gondii parasite is called glioma. Although the average person is at low risk, there is a link found between high exposure to the parasite and glioma. This cancer type most often appears years after the initial exposure to the parasite. The parasite represents a risk to all warm-blooded mammals, but for some reason, it replicates only in cats.
The danger is real
Glioma is a type of cancer that is deadly with low five-year survival rates. Those who are most susceptible are white males, older who are taller or have compromised immune systems. Years of research have also linked the parasite with the development of lung cancer. Even though the risks, so far, are believed low, the link between the parasite and fatal health conditions in humans does exist.
How to prevent illness and Toxoplasma gondii infection
The Mayo Clinic offers advice about how to prevent infection of the Toxoplasma gondii parasite in humans. It can help to wear gloves when working in the outdoors in gardens or with soil. Be sure to wash your hands well with soap and water. Avoid eating meat that is raw or undercooked. Avoid cross-contamination in utensils and other surfaces and always wash your hands when preparing foods that may be contaminated with the parasite. All fruits and vegetables should be scrubbed before eating with the peel removed whenever possible, after washing. Avoid drinking unpasteurized milk, as well as other dairy products because they may also be contaminated. Keep children’s sandboxes covered to keep cats out.
The recommendations also extend to cat owners. Cats should be kept indoors and should never be fed raw meat or any foods that may be contaminated. Keep them away from stray cats, and be careful when you come into contact with stray cats or kittens. You can have cats tested for the T. gondii infection, but it takes u to 4 weeks to get the results of testing back. When changing a cat’s litter box, wear gloves, and a face mask. Wash your hands well afterward and keep the litter box changed daily.
Although recent scientific evidence shows a positive link between the Toxoplasma gondii parasite and brain cancer, the risks of humans developing this fatal condition are rare. Increased exposure to cat feces is one way that you can become infected with the parasite, as well as consuming raw or undercooked meats, or coming into contact with cross-contaminated utensils or other surfaces. There are ways to lessen the risk of infection by taking precautions. The CDC estimates over 40 million Americans are already infected with the parasite, but most will never experience any symptoms. The few who do may have mild to moderate symptoms similar to the flu, but some will experience more severe, and potentially deadly reactions. It’s a preventable infection when you know what it is, how it is spread, and what to do to reduce your risks.