One of the most widely spread diseases in the modern world is Toxoplasmosis. It is caused by a single-cell parasite Toxoplasma gondii. In this article we will learn more about it – where it comes from, how Toxoplasma gondii spreads (Toxoplasmosis) and how it is treated.
For half of the harm we suffer we have to thank ourselves.Proverb
According to research among cat owners in Europe, since 19th century the spread of the disease rose from 7% to 70%. There is evidence of people suffering from this parasite since the dawn of humankind. The Stanley Medical Research Institute extensively studies this disease.
The Stanley Medical Research Institute
from: All About the Cat
All members of the Felidae (Cats) family, from cute kittens to lions and tigers share a common feline predecessor that used to live in South East Asia some 11 mln years ago. The Clouded Leopard, an endangered species discovered in South East Asia is genetically closest to the original feline.
Some 9 millions years ago ‘the felid family underwent an explosive diversification, giving rise to thirty-seven species that today cover the Earth’s geographical and ecological spectrum’1 . One of those species is Felis sylvestris sylvestris (European wildcat), native to the Middle East, East Asia, North Africa and Europe and ancestor to all domestic cats. There are four other sub-species of Felis sylvestris sylvestris, but this would be the only one domesticated.
Cats were domesticated first in Turkey around 10 thousand years ago, in connection with extensive agriculture activities and grain harvesting. Later Egypt followed suit, probably independently. Perhaps wildcats were initially attracted by mice associated with harvesting and amassing of large amounts of grain. Some evidence suggests that cats were domesticated independently in China some 5,000 years ago yet the wild cat originated from the leopard cat, the latter being different from the wild cat domesticated before that in Turkey2.
Having in mind cat behavior as we know it, it also seems likely that cats yielded themselves to domestication rather than being intentionally domesticated by humans. For most of the initial period of domestication, from around 10,000 years ago until the end of 18th c. AD, cats were regarded primarily in terms of their utility – more specifically to kill mice and rats and thus protect food supplies. It is suggested that sometimes cats were kept as pets, but apart from Egypt, there were few examples. E.g., in a burial in Cyprus dating 9,500 years back, a human and a cat were found placed together.
More on Cats and Toxoplasma gondii (Toxoplasmosis)
The main example of cats as pets was associated with Ancient Egypt where some 3,500 years ago (1500 BC) the local cult of the cat goddess Bastet was prevalent. Cats were highly respected and oftentimes mummified after their death. Only high-ranking dignitaries had the privilege to own cats and the animals were treated as sacred. In 2013, DNA sequencing from an Egyptian mummy has revealed evidence of Toxoplasma gondii.3
Herodotus makes a special note of the peculiar Egyptian attachment to cats during his visit of Thebes in 450 BC: Egyptians were so afraid that we might steal their cats that they banned their export outside Egypt. He documents his travels to Ethiopia when he charted a map of the African continent thinking Earth was flat and ended in Ethiopia. In his work Herodotus extensively talks about the extraordinary attachment to and cult of cats in Egypt. He describes how cats were treated as deities and were showered with care, even if the animal would get aggressive; all persons who were in touch with the animal worshiped it, the owners too. The latter even willingly would let cats bite and scratch them. People who sustained such bites and scratches were grateful to the cat attributing its behavior to the will and nature of godly Bastet.
What is Toxoplasma gondii?
The parasite Toxoplasma gondii is an eukaryotic single-cell obligate intracellular organism of the Conoidasida class,Eucoccidiorida order, Sarcystidae family, Toxoplasma genus. The parasite exists in two forms: active tachyzoites and inactive bradyzoites.
How Do We Get Infected with Toxoplasma gondii (Toxoplasmosis)?
The parasites that penetrate the body enter the cells of intestinal mucus and reproduce there by division (asexually) until the cell dies and bursts. Then numerous tachyzoites spread with the blood and can lodge in any organ, the brain included. Upon being attacked by the immune system they go into an inactive form, bradyzoites, which form a cluster (sporozoite), covered in a membrane, i.e. the so called oocyst. Toxoplasma gondii cysts can survive for many years undisturbed by the immune system.
Most infections tend to be latent, from bradyzoite cysts. This, however, does not mean they are harmless. They release toxic substances and irritate surrounding tissues causing infection and oncogenesis. These cysts are well detectable with Voll test. With the Voll test, a strong signal from the affected organ is detected as long as the parasites within the cells are alive.
Characteristics of Toxoplasmosis
Toxoplasma gondii has also sexual reproduction, by fusion of the nuclei of two cells. This takes place only in the body of felines – both wild and domestic felines. In felines, the parasites are to be found in the saliva, urine and excrements. Considering that domestic cats tend to lick their hair and live permanently at home, contracting the parasite is almost inevitable. Other warm-blooded animals are just vectors of toxoplasmic tachyzoites, the latter reproducing asexually in the intestinal mucus.
Evidence suggests that mice infected with toxoplasmosis are strangely attracted to cats and easily let being eaten (i.e. thus facilitating the reproduction of the parasite). It is not a surprise that affinity of humans for domestic cats has a similar meaning. The power of biochemical processes is very strong if it is related to reproduction of species.
Toxoplasma gondii (Toxoplasmosis) – Damages
Recent publications connect schizoid mental conditions and other mental disorders in humans with toxoplasmosis infection in the central nervous system. There is a lot of data associating toxoplasmosis with malignant tumors. Cysts form, including in the brain. The parasite that has lodged in the cell of the host releases its own proteins, kinase and phosphatase types of enzymes; this triggers formation of antibodies and hence, brain tumors. The role of antibodies against Toxoplasma gondii and brain tumors is being researched, and it is hypothesized that Toxoplasma gondii is able to alter microRNA (miRNAs) of the host which plays a crucial role in post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression. In this way Toxoplasma gondii may be associated with brain cancer. The infection most often affects muscle tissue, the brain, the genitals; it can be in the urinary tract or any other organ, even the heart and eyes.
Toxoplasmosis can be a factor associated with infertility and can endanger the survival of the fetus. A woman infected with Toxoplasma gondii can congenitally pass the infection to the fetus and give birth to a fatally affected child. Voll specialists most often find this parasite in the ovaries of women with reproductive issues. Luckily, once the parasites are removed, women give birth to healthy children.
Oocysts are remarkably resistant, especially when conditions are right – shade, humidity and moderate temperature. In Greece, in shade with average ambient temperature of 19.5° C, oocysts survived during the 13-month experiment. Oocysts held for experimental purposes at 4° C in sea or fresh water remained viable for 24 and 54 months. Oocysts survive also in vials with 2% sulfuric acid at 4⁰ C.
What are the Symptoms of Infection with Toxoplasma gondii (Toxoplasmosis)?
One of the most serious problems in detecting toxoplasmosis is the fact that in 90% of infections of children and adults there are no symptoms. As low as 10% of infected persons have swollen lymph nodes, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and fever of about 38.5⁰ C. The general symptoms resemble those of mild flue or food poisoning. These symptoms tend to resolve quickly anyway, and almost all infected persons go through a latent infection which starts causing problems in case of compromised immunity.
Severe toxoplasmosis causing damage to the brain, eyes or other organs can result from an acute infection with toxoplasma or reactivation of a prior infection with the parasite. Severe toxoplasmosis is more likely in persons with a weak immune system; however, sometimes people with non-compromised immune system may get eye damage from toxoplasmosis. The signs and symptoms of eye toxoplasmosis may include impaired or blurred vision, pain (often with bright light), reddening of the eye and sometimes watering of the eyes. Ophthalmologists may prescribe medication for treatment of active disease.
The size of eye lesion, the location and its features would determine whether medications are to be taken (acute active v. chronic non-progressive). Your ophthalmologist would provide the relevant care in case of eye toxoplasmosis. If toxoplasmosis has made its way to the brain, most often there would be brain cysts, toxoplasmic meningoencephalitis, brain inflammations that cause seizures, disorientation and coma. If the fetus is infected, symptoms may be mild or quite severe. Toxoplasmosis in unborn babies may be life-threatening shortly after birth. Most newborns with congenital toxoplasmosis may not have anything atypical at birth yet may develop signs and symptoms as they progress in age. Especially important is to check for infection in their brain and eyes.
How is Toxoplasmosis Diagnosed?
If you have ever been exposed to T. gondii there would be antibodies in your blood. This means you would test positive for antibodies. Positive tests indicate that in some point in time you got infected but not necessarily that at the moment you have an active infection.
If your fetus is diagnosed with toxoplasmosis you will be referred to a specialist. You will be also offered genetic counseling. Depending on the gestation week, termination of pregnancy may be offered as an option.
What is the Response of Conventional Medicine to Toxoplasmosis?
If the condition is severe, persistent, affecting your eyes or internal organs, your doctor would usually prescribe pyrimethamine (Daraprim) and sulfadiazine. In the past pyrimethamine was used for malaria but is no longer recommended due to resistance. Sulfadiazine is an antibiotic.
How Does Alternative Medicine Treat Toxoplasmosis?
Homeopathy prescribes Zincum picricum, Calcarea carbonica, Cina.
Herbal medicine – two-month intake of Para-21® excellently tackles any detected Toxoplasma infection; if the infection is severe – two-months of intake Para-21®, followed by one month without taking the product, and then another two months of taking Para-21® – this would be the scheme for complete removal of Toxoplasma gondii parasites.
The best news on the herbal medicine front is that the product Para-21® clears all phases of infection with toxoplasmosis. Not just in intermediate patients but among cats too! Have once a year anti-parasitic treatment – both you and your pet – and keep intestinal parasites away from your home and lives.
- Budyanski S. The character of cats. New York: Viking; 2002: 6
- Cats domesticated twice? Science 2015; 351: 429
- Khairat R, Ball M, Chang CC, et al. First insights into the metagenomes of Egyptian mummies using next-generation sequencing. J Appl Genet . 2013