T. gondii is a parasite found in domesticated cats. It is released into the environment through feces. T. gondii, once released into the environment, is resistant to freezing, toxins and even chlorination. Animals become infected by T. gondii by ingesting the parasites in the soil. In turn, humans become infected by consuming raw meat contaminated by the parasite.
Once it enters the human body, T. gondii forms tissue cysts, particularly in the heart, muscles, brain and eyes, that can remain in the body for life. Around 40 million Americans are infected with T. gondii but do not develop symptoms. This is why most cases go unnoticed.
However, a T. gondii infected can lead to flu-like symptoms, including body pain, lymph node inflammation, headaches, fever and fatigue. The infection is worse for those with HIV and AIDS, as well as those with a compromised immune system, as this can lead to headaches, confusion, poor coordination, seizures, lung problems and severe inflammation in the retina that causes blurred vision.
An infection caused by T. gondii is called toxoplasmosis.
In addition, a recent study showed that T. gondii can increase the risk of schizophrenia by 50 percent. Researchers say this can occur once the infection disrupts amino acids in the brain, which can cause the mental disorder. T. gondii can also lead to permanent damage to the eyes, brain and other organs.
The team also noted that aside from T. gondii, the samples did not contain Salmonella or Campylobacter – the common bacterial causes of food poisoning. This means that T. gondii can still remain in meat products in supermarkets, even after being cleaned.
They recommended cooking meat properly to avoid being a host to the parasite.
“Consuming raw or undercooked meat is a common route for individuals to contract toxoplasmosis. And meat sourced from sheep, in particular, has the potential to harbor Toxoplasmosis gondii,” said Justine Smith, the lead author of the study.
They also suggest cooking the meat at a temperature of 66 C or freezing it overnight at -12 C as precautionary measures to kill the parasite.
“Specific messaging is that is sensitive to consumer cooking preferences may be helpful to educate the Australian population of the risk related to consuming undercooked lamb, which applies particularly to pregnant women, the elderly and immunocompromised persons,” the research team wrote.
A person can also be infected by T. gondii through direct exposure to an infected cat’s feces; blood transfusion or organ transplant; and mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy. If a pregnant woman gets infected, this may lead to stillbirth or miscarriage. Even if the infant survives, he can develop seizures; liver and spleen problems; jaundice; and severe eye conditions. In some cases, the symptoms can appear during adolescence or even later. (Related: 6 Foods you thought were healthy, but aren’t.)
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