Toxoplasmosis is an infection that not many people have heard of, but the CDC estimates that every year, around 60 million Americans get infected with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, one of the most common in the world. And according to a study published in the BMC Infectious Diseases journal, this disease can have an affect on the brain and slow down a person’s reaction times, putting them at a much higher risk of automobile accidents. And since, according to the researchers, this infection can occur in 20-60% of the population, this problem is good to be aware of, especially for those who spend time behind the wheel.
What is Toxoplasmosis?
According to the Mayo Clinic, toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection which happens when a human comes into contact with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite. When this parasite gets into the body, it forms cysts in various parts of the body, including the muscles, heart and brain. In healthy people, the immune system can keep these parasites in check and many times, they do not get any symptoms or even realize that they have a problem. However, if a person’s immune system weakens, they can experience a variety of symptoms from the mild (flu-like symptoms like body aches, headaches, fevers and swollen lymph nodes) to the severe (seizures, lack of coordination and confusion).
Most often people contract this infection through contact with cat feces (such as when cleaning out a litter box), eating undercooked or contaminated meat (especially pork, venison or lamb) or using utensils that have come into contact with it or consuming raw milk or products made from it. In short, it is not a difficult infection to acquire.
What The Study Found
This study, published in the BMC Infectious Disease journal, noted that toxoplasmosis is a fairly frequent infection and that, because many people do not have symptoms from it, they are not aware that there is a problem. Since one of the symptoms of this infection is a delayed reaction time, people who have this condition are more at risk for automobile accidents. In order to look at this relationship – and factors that can mitigate it– the scientists looked at male patients in the Central Military Hospital in Prague for three years in a row, testing them for toxoplasmosis as well as for the presence of a particular protein called RhD. This material was then compared with records of automobile accidents to look for a relationship.
What they found at the end of the study was that patients with toxoplasmosis (who did not have the RhD protein) had a rate of traffic accidents of 16.7%. That is six times the rate of patients without toxoplasmosis or who had the protein, which appears to have a protective effect against the neurological problems that come from this infection.
With such high rates of infection, this seems like bad news for drivers across the country. However, the good news is that, once diagnosed, patients with toxoplasmosis can be treated with a combination of sulfadiazine and pyrimethamine. There are also a variety of ways that patients can prevent this infection from happening to the begin with.
How To Prevent Toxoplasmosis
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are plenty of ways to prevent contracting this infection to begin with. These include:
- Keeping cats healthy and wearing gloves when cleaning out the litter box or getting someone else to clean it if you have a weak immune system
- Not eating meat that is undercooked, especially lamb, pork or venison
- Washing utensils/surfaces in the kitchen thoroughly, especially when they have been in contact with raw meat
- Not drinking raw milk or consuming products made from raw milk (this can also be a source of toxoplasmosis)
- Washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating them
So, overall there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that toxoplasmosis infection can infect 20-60% of the population at any given time — and since this infection can slow down a person’s reaction time, this puts toxoplasmosis patients (and other drivers on the road) at a greater risk for accidents. The good news, however, is that this infection is easily treatable with drugs and can also be prevented with simple precautions and lifestyle changes.