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Report: 350,000 In U.K. Contract Toxoplasmosis Each Year

Toxoplasmosis can be spread to humans who carelessly handle cat litter.

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Toxoplasmosis infects 350,000 people per year in the United Kingdom, according to a report published this week by the U.K. Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food.

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Cats are the definitive host of the parasite, but the disease affects humans and many other species of animals and birds, as well.

The disease can be spread to humans who carelessly handle cat litter or eat infected raw or undercooked meat, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Mothers can also pass the disease to their offspring and it can be passed through blood transfusions or solid organ transplants.

The report stemmed from a 2007 request from the U.K. government’s Food Standards Agency requesting advice from the advisory committee on whether toxoplasmosis represents a food safety issue that should be addressed. An ad hoc group of the committee met seven times over the following 28 months before publishing its report this week.

According to the report, the disease annually infects about 350,000 people in the U.K., of which between 10 and 20 percent display symptoms. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that 22.5 percent of U.S. citizens 12 years and older are infected with the disease.

Toxoplasmosis tends to affect people with weakened immune systems, but carriers with healthy immune systems may become immune-compromised later in life and develop a latent infection. There are relatively few severe cases of the disease, but those severe cases are among the costliest of gastrointestinal infections. The cost of those cases gives credence to the need to further asses the prevalence of the disease in the United Kingdom, the study’s authors reported.

Globally, seroprevalence of the disease in cats ranges from 5.4 percent to 90 percent and is higher in wild and stray cats than in domestic cats, of which only about 1 percent are excreting oocysts—the cysts that transmit the disease—at any time, according to the report.

An experimental vaccine using a live mutant strain of bradyzoite (T-263), the in-tissue cyst stage of T. gondii, has been shown to induce significant immunity against oocyst shedding in cats, the authors noted.

The report’s authors suggested that the U.K. government consider a bevy of studies, including livestock seroprevalence, case control and the effect of microbiological reduction and destruction processes. The authors also recommend that the U.K. review advice to pregnant women and the immune-compromised.

<HOME> 9/6/2012 4:00 PM

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