by Kimberly Allen, RN
When most people hear toxoplasmosis they think ‘that disease that pregnant women get from cats. However, according to the CDC over 60 million people in the US including men, women and children, have been infected with the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis. It is also one of the leading causes of death due to a food borne illness in the US. It is also 1 of a group of 5 parasitic diseases targeted by the CDC to be of significant importance in the need for public health action due to the number of people infected, the severity of the illness and the ability to prevent and treat them.
Toxoplasmosis occurs when you have become infected with a single celled parasite called toxoplasma gondii or T-gondii. This parasite can infect most birds and animals, including humans. However, it only reproduces sexually in cats, making all cats whether domestic or wild the preferred host for this parasite. You can not get toxoplasmosis from another infected person. However, you can become infected with the toxoplasma parasite if you have been exposed to cat feces like cleaning the litter box or gardening and touching your mouth without realizing it before you’ve had the chance to wash your hands. Also, if your a person that has cats, it’s the cats that are fed raw meat or that hunt that are more likely to carry the toxoplasma parasite. You can also become infected by consuming contaminated with T-gondii are pork, lamb, and venison. Sometimes unpasteurized dairy products are contaminated with T-gondii. The T-gondii parasite can contaminate water too, however, that is more common in other countries than in the US. Using kitchen utensils like knives and cutting boards that have been used to prepare raw meat can also harbor the T-gondii parasite so it’s important to wash them thoroughly with hot soapy water before using them again. Fresh fruits and vegetables can harbor the parasite anywhere on their surface so it’s important to thoroughly wash all produce, especially if you plan to eat it raw. This parasite can also be passed from a pregnant woman that is infected to her unborn child via the blood stream. And in rare cases it’s possible for the T-gondii parasite can be transmitted through a blood transfusion or an organ transplant.
For most people that are infected with the T-gondii parasite, they either have no symptoms or very few symptoms, however, besides being pregnant, if your immune system is compromised like if you are taking immunosuppressant medications, chemotherapy to treat a medical condition or if you have HIV/AIDS you have a much greater chance of developing serious health problems. Some people may develop symptoms that are similar to mononucleosis or the flu like fever and swollen lymph nodes along with headaches and general body aches as well as increased fatigue. If your immune system is already compromised you could develop more severe symptoms including poor coordination as well as confusion and seizures. You can also develop a severe inflammation in your retina that can cause blurry vision. People with HIV/AIDS also tend to develop lung problems with symptoms similar to pneumonitis or tuberculosis.
Treatment of toxoplasmosis mostly depends on the situation, pregnant women are usually treated with an antibiotic called spiramycin. This antibiotic is able to reduce the chances that your baby becomes infected without risk to you or your baby. However, this medication is considered experimental in the US, but your doctor can get it from the FDA. For people with compromised immune systems pyrimethamine, however, because it is a folic acid antagonist it’s frequently given in combination with folic acid.
The best way to prevent toxoplasmosis is to wear gloves when gardening and wash your hands thoroughly when done. Be sure your meat is not undercooked or raw and thoroughly wash all utensils including cutting boards used to prepare raw meat. Always thoroughly wash all produce very carefully before consuming. If you are pregnant have someone else clean your cats litter box.
Cyclosporiasis is an uncommon almost rare intestinal illness caused by the cyclospora cayetanensis, a single celled parasite. Cyclosporiasis can affect anyone at anytime. According to the CDC approximately 150 cases of cyclosporiasis have been reported yearly for the past eight years. However, this year so far 320 people in 15 states have been diagnosed with cyclosporiasis. That’s more than double the normal number of cases reported yearly, these have all occurred in the last couple of months. This has health experts concerned and the CDC as well as the US FDA investing the current outbreak.
The first cases were reported in late June in Iowa which has been hit the hardest with 138 cases so far. There are also a large number of infections that have been reported in Nebraska and Texas. So far officials have not been able to determine a common occurrence among the people that have been infected. Though officials are confident they will be able to determine the source of the outbreak they have been unable to do so thus far. In the past, outbreaks of cyclosporiasis have been linked to fresh produce including fresh raspberries, snow peas, lettuce and basil.
The exact mode of transmission is unknown. The parasite is passed in the stool of an infected person. However, what makes the cyclospora parasite different from other food borne parasites is that it takes days and sometimes weeks before it becomes infectious. That means that the chances of getting cyclospora directly from a person that has been infected like a restaurant employee that hasn’t washed their hands properly after using the bathroom. However, we do know you get it from consuming either food or water that has been contaminated with the cyclospora parasite. According to one expert part of the problem is that “our food supply system is large and complex and centralized. We get foods from all over the world and they are packaged together and sent very, very quickly.
There are some people that get infected with the cyclospora parasite that don’t develop any symptoms. However, The majority of people that become infected with the tiny parasite usually develop symptoms with in 14 days after consuming either contaminated food or water. The most common symptoms of cyclosporaisis is watery diarrhea with frequent bowel movements that can be explosive. Some people also experience episodes of diarrhea alternating with episodes of constipation along with abdominal cramps. Other symptoms you will probably experience include a low grade fever with loss of appetite and weight loss. Nausea and vomiting with muscle aches and fatigue along with a general feeling of malaise are also associated with cyclosporiasis. Though cyclosporiasis is rarely fatal left untreated the diarrhea can lead to dehydration. In people with compromised immune systems along with infants and young children as well as older adults the risk of severe hydration is much higher. Adding dehydration to a system already compromised by infection can lead to potentially serious complications requiring hospitalization. Cyclosporiasis is easily treated with antibiotic therapy using Bactrim or Septra. For those people that are allergic to sulfa there is some evidence that Cipro or Alinia may be effective.
The best way to prevent becoming infected with the cyclospora parasite is to be careful what you eat and drink, especially when you travel in areas know to have outbreaks of the parasite, like developing countries. Unfortunately washing your produce thoroughly and carefully is not sufficient to eliminate the cyclospora parasite. For this reason it’s a good idea to check the food safety alert section on the web site of the FDA periodically. This can help you monitor the types of foods that have been linked to recent outbreaks of cyclosporiasis.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.