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'Cat Parasite' Infection More Severe Than Previously Thought

Update Date: Feb 07, 2013 09:10 AM EST
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An infectious disease that's carried mostly by cats known as acute toxoplasmosis has severe symptoms like fever, fatigue and muscle aches, says a study from University of Auckland.

The disease had made headlines last year after a Danish study reported that women who are exposed to the parasite "Toxoplasma gondii" can lead women to commit suicide. About a third of the world's population carries the parasite without showing any symptoms of the infections.

Although cat-owners needn't worry about the parasite causing infections, pregnant women are advised to remain careful about exposure to this parasite, according to article based on the study review of the research from Denmark published on NHS Choices.

Then, another study from Sweden, published in the journal PLOS One showed that the parasite alters the way the brain works by hijacking a key neurotransmitter called gamma-Aminobutyric acid or GABA.

 "While chronic toxoplasmosis has been shown to have a strong association with conditions affecting the brain such as schizophrenia, and with suicide and self-harming behaviour, the disease in its acute phase has usually been seen as a benign, trivial and self-healing illness," said Mark Thomas from the Department of Molecular Medicine and Pathology, in a news release.

The study included 31 patients who were asked to complete a questionnaire about their health.  All the patients were diagnosed with cute toxoplasmosis in Auckland during 2011. In this group, 90 percent reported fatigue, 74 percent reported headaches and more than half reported that they had difficulty in concentrating. One of the patients even had to be hospitalized following fever, muscle pain and sweat and increase in heartbeat rates.

"While chronic toxoplasmosis has been shown to have a strong association with conditions affecting the brain such as schizophrenia, and with suicide and self-harming behaviour, the disease in its acute phase has usually been seen as a benign, trivial and self-healing illness," said Mark Thomas from the Department of Molecular Medicine and Pathology.

Thomas added that the patients in the study might have had more severe cases of the infection and so affected the results. However, the study shows that the disease may not be as trivial as previously thought and that some people may experience severe infections. Researchers add that more studies are required to understand the effects of the parasite on human health. 

The study is published in the Scandinavian Journal of Infectious Diseases.

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