Well known to the general population, the toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by protozoa called Toxoplasma gondii, and is considered a zoonosis, because it can be transmitted from animals to humans. It can be transmitted by humans and animals, congenitally (that is, from mother to child), the disease is not contagious by sporadic contact, its main form of spread is through the direct contact with the feces of an infected animal.
Although a large group of animals can be infected with toxoplasmosis and act as transmitters – including dogs, pigs, poultry, sheep, and cattle – cats are the animals that most spread the disease; that’s why it is called by many “Cat’s disease”.
Blaming this feline is nonsense; Since it is difficult for domestic cats to be responsible for so many cases, however, many continue to believe in this great myth and in many cases are asymptomatic. As mentioned, not all cats have the disease but some basic care can be taken to prevent the spread of the disease.
Based on different forms of transmission and according to the different infectious stages, toxoplasmosis It can cause a variety of symptoms in animals and humans, and the consequences of this disease are more severe when the infected person or animal is pregnant; since it can affect the formation of certain organs of the baby.
Transmission of Toxoplasmosis
As mentioned above, toxoplasmosis is a disease that can be transmitted in various ways, and today the most common form of spread is by eating unwashed vegetables and raw or undercooked meat from animals that have the disease.
This shows, once again, that although cats are today considered the main responsible for the toxoplasmosis transmission, is nothing more than a myth.
However, it happens that for contamination to occur, a number of factors need to be taken into account, and simple human contact with infected cats (and even their feces) does not guarantee that disease transmission occurs. Therefore, it is necessary for the infected cat feces to be in the environment for at least 24 hours to promote sporulation of the agent and to be infectious.
Along with this, it is necessary that the person who has had contact with the infected stool end up contaminating the spores orally; therefore, it is not difficult to understand that cats are unfairly considered the main cause of transmitting the disease.
Also, another common way is congenital transmission, which can cause animals and people infected with toxoplasmosis to spread the disease to fetuses during pregnancy. In rare cases, contamination can occur due to the reception of transplanted organs that are infected by the parasite, or even through contact with the blood of infected animals (the latter is the most common case in people who work with hunting activities ).
Stages Toxoplasma Gondii infection
As mentioned in the introduction, there are three different stages of toxoplasmosis infection, Which are the following:
Formed in the digestive tract of cats – definitive hosts of the disease – they are excreted in the feces of cats in the form of spores.
Consists of the spread and multiplication of infection by various tissues of the body. It continues until the infection is destroyed by an external agent or the immune system facilitates the protozoan development process.
Is the form of the disease with acute infectionIt consists of a persistent state of infection that can be found in the visceral tissues, muscles and organs and, in most cases, when the disease reaches this stage, it remains in the host for the rest of its life.
Remember that although dogs are also susceptible to being contaminated by the toxoplasmosis parasite, they do not generate disease-spreading agents when infected, unlike cats.
Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis
The symptoms of toxoplasmosis are very varied and will depend on both the level of infection and the transmission form. Although many cats can contract the disease from birth without showing any symptoms, there can be some consequences for cats that become infected during pregnancy; including injuries of different severity levels to the eyes and liver.
In many cases, cats born with the disease may die soon after birth, or a few days later. However, between the most serious consequences that occurs in infected cats, and that is for life, is having some kind of immune dysfunction, such as in vitro fertilization (also known as feline AIDS) or FeLV (feline leukemia). In these cases, problems such as depression, anorexia, fluid accumulation in the abdomen, shortness of breath, yellowish mucous membranes, changes in the eye region, tremors, seizures, and paralysis can usually occur.
In dogs, toxoplasmosis usually manifests quite similarly to distemper or Distemper disease (which can make it difficult to identification of the problem). Gastrointestinal and respiratory infections are among the main symptoms, causing problems such as fever, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, seizures, weakness or stiffness in the legs and even paralysis; since the disease can act on the central nervous system of pets.
In humans, the disease can also affect a large number of organs and regions of the body, including the liver, lungs, eyes and brain, causing headaches, sore throats, muscles and the presence of nodes are the most common signs in infected people. The first symptoms usually manifest in one to two weeks after exposure to the parasite.
In the case of infected people who have some type of immunodeficiency problem (such as those with HIV), the consequences are much more serious, and can range from mental confusion and fever to inflammation in the eye (which can cause blurred vision) and seizures.
Another case in which infection with the disease is quite disturbing is in pregnant women; since, although the disease is not harmful to the mother, it can cause a series of disorders in the development of the fetus. The most common are brain problems, organ and vision malformations. In many of these cases, miscarriage can also occur, as well as the birth of a lifeless baby.
Prevention of Toxoplasmosis
To avoid contamination of our pet by toxoplasmosis, you should not eat cysts and infected tissues; Thus, avoiding that food is raw or undercooked meat can help a lot to avoid contagion. Uncontrolled exits to the street is also a good idea to prevent cats from becoming infected; since, at home and with daily hygiene, it is almost impossible to get contaminated.
However, in the case of human beings, the form of prevention is very clear and simple: hygiene. And even if you have a cat infected with the disease at home, this does not mean it has passed. And washing our hands after contact with our pet, and especially after cleaning its litter box, will leave us little chance of transmitting the disease to us.
The sandbox It must be kept clean at all times, as well as the constant sterilization of the accessories with boiling water to avoid contamination. If we have small children, it is advisable to leave all this in remote or inaccessible places and be very conscientious in the hygiene of their hands at all times.
In all cases (whether to prevent infection in animals or humans), hygiene is the key word. Each type of vegetable that is included in our pet’s diet must be well washed and all the meat that it eats must be cooked before consumption, which eliminates the possibility that the parasite can be transmitted through it. It is very important to wash all the kitchen utensils that come into contact with the raw meat to avoid another form of contagion.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Toxoplasmosis
In order to identify toxoplasmosis in humans some specific medical tests are required, which can range from simple blood tests to serological tests, cranial ultrasounds, imaging tests such as CT or MRI.
Note that in approximately 80% of cases of infected humans, it is asymptomatic (i.e. does not cause any symptoms) and therefore there are many cases where the person has or has had the disease and neither you don’t even know.
In the case of animals, the diagnosis of toxoplasmosis it may also require analysis of tissue, blood or stool samples and x-rays for example. A simple clinical examination cannot give a true diagnosis. Serological tests, which detect the presence of antibodies against the disease in the animal body, are the most required to try to identify the contagion.
Treatment of toxoplasmosis in humans is not necessary in most cases, since by default the protozoan will be eliminated by the body itself after one or two months. However, in people with symptoms or who have an immune disorder, there are medications that speed up the healing process to less than 3 weeks.
In the case of the infected animals, the treatment is also done through the administration of a specific drug. It is indicated according to the level of development of the disease and its symptoms, and may include the prescription of antibiotics up to chemotherapy.