It is fairly common knowledge that pregnant woman and people with compromised immune systems should avoid cleaning cat litter boxes to avoid getting toxoplasma gondii from cat feces. Toxoplasma can also be introduced to the body through the consumption of contaminated food and water.
Leonardo Augusto, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and lead author on the National Institutes of Health-funded study about toxoplasma has discovered the way the parasite takes control of a person’s cells and uses them to transport itself throughout the body.
This finding is important because once scientists discover how a parasite spreads, they can focus on a cure. This particular parasite infects about 1/3 of the world’s population making it a serious risk. What is especially dangerous about this parasite is that it can stay dormant in a body until the immune system weakens.
With the new understanding about how toxoplasma spreads through the body researchers are one step closer to finding a cure for this disease which can infect the brain as well as other organs.
The parasite Toxoplasma gondii (TG) is widely spread, infecting about 30 – 50% of the world human population. The main host for TG is our beloved pet cats and cats in general. The parasite is transported to humans by eating insufficiently cooked meat or by contact with cat feces, putting the parasite in the stomach. From there it passes through the intestinal wall. Next our immune cells attack it but instead of killing it, they become “Trojan horses.”
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People who have impaired immune systems and unborn fetuses that are infected with Toxoplasmosis have a high risk of death. However healthy people may show only mild symptoms.
Studies have shown that carriers of TG have more instances of mental illness such as schizophrenia, depression and anxiety disorders. Other studies have illustrated that people who are infected with TG may be more prone to aggressive and risky behavior. This is because TG will eventually get into a person’s brain.
The good news is that since the scientists at Stockholm University have unraveled the mystery of how TG works and is transported, they have found that when mice are infected with TG and given regular blood pressure medicine, it inhibits its spread.