Toxoplasmosis. Commonly overlooked in foods commonly undercooked. And, know that the cure may not be in the curing process. It is one of the world's most common parasitic diseases—actually more common than we may think. Toxoplasmosis is caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii through the transmission of oocysts, where the protozoa seeks dormant refuge until a fit host is found, activating its parasitic nature.
Toxoplasmosis is found in a multitude of animals such as pigs, sheep, goats, cattle, birds, and rodents. The most suitable hosts are cats which toxoplasmisis can reproduce internally and be passed through to their fecal matter in an active oocystic form. Once the feces dry, microscopic oocystic spores containing the parasite can be easily inhaled and implanted in the body, alternating in active and dormant forms throughout a lifetime unless treated. The Toxoplasma gondii parasite is especially dangerous for pregnant women, as their unborn baby is at risk to develop congenital toxoplasmosis which could result in life-long complications. Pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals are advised to avoid contact with cat litter boxes or use an extended 'pooper-scooper' where the risk of inhaling contaminated oocystic spores is minimised.
How common is toxoplasmosis in the food we consume?
More common than we are aware. Anyone who consumes undercooked meats such as pork, beef, lamb, goat, and venison are at a higher risk to contract the parasite. This is because these parasites lodge themselves in intramuscular oocysts and can live within animal flesh, even after meat has been processed. Even though, cured meat reduces chances of infection, eating raw, cured meats still carries a risk of contamination. Intake of these spore-like oocysts allows the parasite to replenish and infect the functioning human organ systems.
Other high-risk food consumption included is ingestion of unpasteurized milk and cheeses produced from infected hosts. Most common are those of goats, sheep, and then cattle. Also, consuming raw or undercooked shellfish are a high-risk food group because these oocysts are prepared enough to pass through the many layers of our sewage systems, into natural waters, infecting the filter mollusks such as clams, oysters, mussels, and scallops.
Acute human infection of toxoplasmosis is normally dealt with by a well-developed fortified immune response. In people who are immuno-compromised, congenital cases occur that toxoplasmosis can become severely problematic over a long duration of time. Due to the lingering nature of Toxoplasma gondii, and its ability to survive under many versatile conditions, this makes it a great threat to thrive when it finds perfect host environments.
A theory that toxoplasmosis infection of the brain of select host organisms can eliminate fear related instinctive responses, however, this has yet to be proven in science.
The best prevention is awareness of the way this parasite spreads, knowledge risk factors such as which foods can be infected, as well as other methods of infection. Know the potential signs and symptoms such as long-term muscle, tendon, and joint aches and pains, swollen lymph nodes (very common among many infections), and differing levels of eye problems such as pain, sensitivity to light, and eye redness. Remember, like many parasitic conditions, this is an infection that can alternate between active and dormant cycles. If infection is suspected, it is important to do proper research and present findings to your doctor (one who listens to your supporting arguments) and consider testing as well as treatment options if suspicion is confirmed.