Could your cat give you a deadly dis­ease?

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - INTERNATIONAL - By Alexandra Thomp­son

A par­a­site com­monly found in cats fae­ces may cause Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and even cancer, new re­search sug­gests. Tox­o­plasma gondii, which is car­ried by around 30 per­cent of cats at any one time and sheds in their stools, may al­ter more than 1,000 genes as­so­ci­ated with cancer, a study found.

Once a hu­man is in­fected, pro­teins from the par­a­site could al­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween brain cells, which may in­crease a per­son's risk of de­vel­op­ing Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and epilepsy.

Up un­til now, only preg­nant women were ad­vised to avoid cat fae­ces as the par­a­site is known to cause mis­car­riages, still births and dam­age to foe­tus' devel­op­ment. In­fec­tions of­ten seem harm­less, with few peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing symp­toms and just a few show­ing signs of mild flu. Study au­thor Dr. Dennis Steindler from Tufts Univer­sity in Mas­sachusetts, said: 'This study is a paradigm shifter.' Re­searchers from around the world an­a­lyzed data from a study that has mon­i­tored 246 in­fants with Tox­o­plasma gondii-re­lated dis­ease since 1981. Re­sults re­veal a link be­tween the par­a­site and al­most 1,200 hu­man genes that are as­so­ci­ated with cancer.

Pro­tein frag­ments from chil­dren with se­vere forms of the dis­ease are also linked to Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and epilepsy. The par­a­site is thought to in­crease the risk of these con­di­tions by re­leas­ing pro­teins that al­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween brain cells. Yet, the re­searchers add other fac­tors aside from Tox­o­plasma gondii in­fec­tion likely also in­flu­ence a per­son's risk of de­vel­op­ing such dis­eases. They wrote: 'We hy­poth­e­sise that dis­ease oc­curs in the pres­ence of the rel­e­vant sus­cep­ti­bil­ity genes, par­a­site geno­type and other in­nate and en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors such as other in­fec­tions, the mi­cro­biome or stress that in­flu­ence im­mune re­sponses.'

Dr. Steindler added: 'At the same time, we have to trans­late as­pects of this study into preven­tive treat­ments that in­clude ev­ery­thing from drugs to diet to life­style, in or­der to de­lay dis­ease on­set and pro­gres­sion.'

The find­ings were pub­lished in the jour­nal Na­ture.

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