Toxoplasmosis: A prolific understudied and highly contagious disease that contributes significantly to COVID 19 deaths

We often think what we can see with our naked eye is all there is to our experience, but modern science has shown us a different truth. We know that there are different levels to our existence, fields, and realms that we identify as otherworldly. However, we don’t have to go to the fourth dimension to experience something unworldly in this situation that we call life. 

The microscopic world is front and center in today’s world news. Today we hear words like covid or vaccine in the 2020s as though they are as familiar as the words “like” in the last ’90s. The daily news talks about viruses and variants as though they are as popular as superstars but as deadly as the terrorist that ravaged our airports in 2001. They are front and center in our consciousness and will most likely continue for some time. Though viruses are very relevant in our lives, something just as appropriate to discuss and concerning is lurking just a few microns larger than the viruses we so fear.

Parasites are Common

Parasites are common in our world though it’s uncommon to hear about them. The few times parasites are discussed, a veterinarian typically brings our attention to a pet who may have them, or we may listen to the occasional horror stories in third world countries of giant tapeworms or brain-eating parasites found in water. Typically we think that a parasitic infection couldn’t possibly happen to me. 

Parasitic infections in humans worldwide are more common than we think. It’s estimated that around 80% of people have one parasite or another living in them at this moment. This large percentage of infestations doesn’t equate to a reason to be alarmed, as many of these parasites will go unnoticed during our lifetime.

Parasites become a concern when immune systems are compromised, allowing the parasite to proliferate. Death by parasitic infection can occur in patients with viral infections that specifically target the immune system, as is the case in many acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) or after being infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). One such parasite that is exceptionally prolific in immune-deficient patients is Toxoplasma gondii.

Toxoplasma Gondii and Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis, the disease caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, is prolific in developed countries. According to the CDC, In the United States alone, Toxoplasmosis is a leading cause of death attributed to foodborne illness. In Germany alone, Toxoplasmosis is thought to have infected around 63% of the population. Around 83% of all childbearing women are in some form considered susceptible to Toxoplasmosis, and nearly 4,000 cases of congenital Toxoplasmosis occur in the United States each year

Toxoplasma Gondii Development and Transmission

Toxoplasma gondii is spore-forming and is mainly found in cats. Its sexual reproduction is found only in the intestines of cats. Toxoplasma gondii forms protective structures called oocysts, which can be shed in the cat’s feces and eventually infect other mammals through contaminated soil, water, food, or other means, and is capable of surviving in cold and dry climates for many months. Toxoplasma gondii can asexually reproduce in other animals, including humans, by utilizing mass cellular division. Once infected, Toxoplasma gondii can spread throughout the host’s body into the brain and bloodstream, resulting in mammal to mammal infestations through blood. Transmission of Toxoplasma gondii includes sexual activity, blood transfusion, and child development in the womb. 

Toxoplasmosis Life Cycle

Toxoplasma gondii Symptoms

Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite that, when infecting its host, creates flu-like symptoms of rash, fever, chills, trouble breathing, and fatigue “with swollen lymph glands or muscle aches and pains that may last for a month or more“. If the disease Toxoplasmosis is elevated to the eye, it can cause blurred vision, eye pain (often with bright light), redness of the eye, and sometimes tearing. If the condition is substantial, Toxoplasmosis can lead to brain disease and result in weakness on one side of the body, difficulty speaking, poor vision, headache, confusion, seizures, and coma.

Toxoplasmosis also chemically and psychologically alters its hosts by reducing the production of tryptophan and increasing dopamine signaling. Researchers have also noted that mice with Toxoplasmosis become more risk-driven. Some of these behaviors have been shown to transfer to humans who have Toxoplasmosis. There are even links to depression and other psychiatric severe disorders attributed to Toxoplasmosis.

Toxoplasmosis and COVID 19

As COVID-19 is one of the primary concerns in our day and age, it’s interesting that we should find risk factors that link Toxoplasmosis and the severity of a COVID infection. What is more interesting is the lack of dialogue associated with these risk factors, especially due to their severity. One article indicates that “Toxoplasma-infected participants had a higher probability of being diagnosed with COVID-19 and of having a more severe course of the disease; they were more likely to end up hospitalized and more frequently needed to be treated at intensive care units.” 

COVID 19 Toxoplasmosis

Furthermore, additional studies have shown that Toxoplasmosis “to be a more significant risk factor for severe COVID-19 disease than any of the other risk factors analyzed, including being overweight or having cardiovascular disease, or diabetes…this could result from changes to the immune system caused by Toxoplasma infection.” We should also take note of the similarities between COVID symptoms and Toxoplasmosis, though this doesn’t necessarily mean they are correlated.

COVID and Toxoplasmosis Treatments

If we look into some of the alternative treatments used to fight COVID-19, we also find some interesting correlations to Toxoplasmosis. Ivermectin, which is surprisingly controversial in treating COVID-19, is useful to treat many diseases. It has been considered by many to help elevate alleviate the symptoms of COVID-19 though many healthcare professionals and organizations deny its effectiveness and safety. One study on Toxoplasmosis shows that ivermectin significantly inhibited the replication of Toxoplasma gondii.

Another study shows that quercetin, another anti-inflammatory supplement used in post-COVID-19 patients, “might be a promising candidate for development of antioxidant treatment interventions to prevent adipocytopathy,” which is caused by Toxoplasmosis. 

Additionally, we find that NAC, another controversial supplement used post-COVID-19 by many, inhibited DNA damage done by Toxoplasmosis and helped recovery. 

Vitamin D deficiency is considered by many researchers to be one of the main contributing factors to the severity of COVID infections. Not surprisingly, vitamin D deficiency is a significant contributing factor to Toxoplasmosis infection.

It’s important to note here that the CDC does provide recommendations specifically to treat Toxoplasmosis and they include pyrimethamine and sulfadiazine, plus folinic acid. 

Toxoplasmosis Understudied?

The current focus of study based on the severity of Toxoplasmosis seems to be vastly deficient. We still have little understanding of the number of people infected by this disease and contributing parasites. We know little about its effects on humans and if it contributes significantly to depression and other conditions in our bodies. We know little about how well it is transmitted to other people sexually and the adverse side effects of that transfer on the immune system of those newly infected. The list goes on. Already we have significant reason to desire to understand this parasite and its societal impacts.

Few people in modern society have brought up Toxoplasmosis in the media. In a number of episodes of The Joe Rogan Experience, Rogan talks to guests about Toxoplasmosis. One guest, Robert Sapolsky, talks about his understanding of the effects of Toxoplasmosis where Sapolsky says that nearly 50% of all humans are most likely infected and its dangers to humanity.

Joe Rogan of all people seems to have an interesting fascination with this parasite as he’s talked about it quite a few times on his show:

https://youtu.be/pCkmYeCKKFo?t=409
https://youtu.be/Vrhz0Q_9WMY
https://youtu.be/M5aauLMRTvY
https://youtu.be/ksclyH9L3jQ
https://youtu.be/Xv0Z5Ze32vs?t=4

Additionally, Radiolab, a popular podcast, discussed Toxoplasmosis as well as a number of other parasites. Besides these few media outlets, Toxoplasmosis is rarely mentioned, and if so discarded as only something people with cats can catch.

Additionally, no matter your position on COVID-19, it would seem based on the evidence that Toxoplasmosis is a significant contributing factor to its severity in humans. It would seem essential to study the connection between Toxoplasmosis and COVID-19 to see if treating Toxoplasmosis and Toxoplasma gondii would reduce the risk of COVID-19 symptoms. Not doing so could be a significant disadvantage in saving countless lives.

Additional suggested reading:

https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/biological-sciences-articles/what-does-it-mean-when-2-billion-people-share-their-brain-with-a-parasite

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