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Elderly at risk: Parasite transmitted by cats poses threat to seniors

Elderly at risk: Parasite transmitted by cats poses threat to seniors Illustrative photo (Photo: Freepik)
Author: Daria Shekina

The widespread and notorious parasite Toxoplasma gondii may be responsible for increased frailty and weakness in elderly humans. This parasite is predominantly transmitted by cats, according to the discovery by scientists, published in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Science.

What makes toxoplasmosis dangerous for elderly individuals

In this research, scientists discovered that the Toxoplasma parasite could cause flu-like symptoms and more severe issues, such as seizures or deteriorating health in individuals with weakened immune systems.

Scientists hypothesize that the parasite might be a contributing factor to inflammation or persistent age-related inflammation, leading to weakness.

Samples were collected from over 600 residents of Spain and Portugal aged over 65. Data were analyzed for indicators of weakness, including unintentional weight loss, fatigue, and cognitive decline.

While the initial goal was achieved, and a connection between the parasite and overall weakness was identified, scientists made several significant discoveries during the study.

In individuals with toxoplasmosis infection, more antibodies were produced to fight the parasite, contributing to weakness. There were also indications of a link between a severe immune reaction to this parasite and a higher likelihood of weakness in old age.

In individuals with a stronger reaction to toxoplasmosis (possibly due to a more widespread infection or numerous infections), higher levels of certain inflammation biomarkers were observed, indicating another potential connection.

Considering that the level of toxoplasmosis infection increases with age and it can remain dormant and unnoticed in the human body for several decades, researchers argue for increased caution to avoid infection.

Toxoplasmosis can be contracted by almost all cat owners, as the parasite may reside in cat litter or water contaminated by animals. There is also a risk of infection through the consumption of meat containing the parasite with insufficient thermal processing.

The risk of picking up this parasite is significantly higher for those who have contact with stray cats or allow their pets to roam freely without supervision.

In earlier studies on toxoplasmosis, scientists claimed that this parasite is associated with skeletal muscle damage and even schizophrenia due to its potential impact on consciousness.

How the Toxoplasmosis parasite affects humans

Healthy individuals infected with toxoplasmosis often experience the disease asymptomatically. The illness can take a mild form, with symptoms resembling the flu: painful lymph nodes, muscle aches. Symptoms can last from a few weeks to months, then subside. However, the parasite remains dormant in the human body. It can become active with a sudden decrease in immunity.

The parasite is particularly dangerous for pregnant women. If she becomes infected before pregnancy, the baby will be protected by maternal immunity. If infected during pregnancy, there is a risk of transmitting the parasite to the child, leading to potential miscarriage, fetal death, or the birth of a child with abnormalities.

Serious vision problems can also occur in individuals infected with toxoplasmosis. The infection can lead to acute inflammatory damage to the retina, leaving scars afterward.

This material is for informational purposes only and should not be used for medical diagnosis or self-treatment. Our goal is to provide readers with accurate information about symptoms, causes, and methods of detecting diseases. RBС-Ukraine is not responsible for any diagnoses that readers may make based on materials from the resource. We do not recommend self-treatment and advise consulting a doctor in case of any health concerns.