Toxoplasma gondii– these two words should put fear in any pregnant woman as this
parasite can cause the termination of a pregnancy. In a normal adult, Toxoplasma isn’t a terribly horrible parasite to have. It won’t cause your nose to fall off like Leishmaniasis, cause you to go blind like Onchocerca volvus, or give you Montezuma’s Revenge like Giardia spp. The symptoms of Toxoplasma are quit mild compared to some of its parasitic cousins, unless you of course develop schizophrenia or some other mental illness as a result of the parasite.
Humans are not the common final host of Toxoplasma– cats are. Toxoplasma is a trophically transmitted parasite- in summary the parasite’s life cycle depends on consumption of eggs by an intermediate host (a rat), which then gets eaten by a cat (where Toxoplasma goes into its adult stage and begins reproducing, releasing its eggs in the cats feces, and the life cycle begins all over again- THE CIRCLE OF LIFE!). What’s so interesting about this parasite is that when it infects the rat, it practically makes the rat FALL IN LOVE with the smell of cats! Particularly cat urine. Rats end up losing their fear of cats, following the scent of cats. Additionally, the rats reflexes are slowed down, similar to how marijuana may slow down the reflexes of a person. Obviously, this makes the rat more susceptible to be consumed by the cat, which is exactly what the parasite wants so that it can complete its life cycle and propagate! Genius!!!!
So how do humans get this parasite? They can get if from gardening, eating raw meat, and more commonly- coming into contact with a cat, especially near the cat litter! (Remember, the eggs are excreted with cat feces!). So if you don’t wash your hands after cleaning a litter box, etc., eat or put your hands near your mouth, their could be a good chance you soon may be a lucky recipient of Toxoplasma!!! So what does this mean? Besides the possibility of developing schizophrenia (some studies have correlated this parasite to the development of certain mental diseases), it’s possible your reflexes may slow down a bit (people with Toxoplasma are more likely to get in car accidents), but the one symptom that most people develop- fearlessness. People with Toxoplasma tend to take more risks in life, and tend to be a bit more assertive. A study showed that out of all the President’s and CEO’s of companies, as well as Deans and those in higher positions in academia, overwhelmingly have Toxoplasma. Makes sense- most people who develop and create businesses or acquire higher positions in their career have had to take risks sometime in their life to propel their business and career, and proving their leadership (being assertive) to others. Depending on how you look at it, Toxoplasma could be a useful “tool.”
For years, I wondered if I had Toxoplasma. I’ve taken many risks in life (socially and academically), and tend to want to do crazy things without a second thought. I’ve been told I’m assertive, and I tend not to let anything get in my way of my career (sacrificed some social time this week and accomplished a goal- submitted 3 manuscripts for publication within a week!). Well, within a week I should find out as I had to take a test since I’ve got a Baby Lagarto brewing inside me. If I already have the parasite, it will not affect her. However, I have to stay away from cat litters, and personally, I just want to stay away from cats all together. Right now they are 4-legged demons with a parasite waiting to find a “new host.” I seriously walk away or stand across a room from a cat right now- there could be eggs underneath their claws!!!!!
So for now, I have a case of ailurophobia (a fear of cats). And I will be for at least several more months….