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Saturday, 10 August, 2002, 23:03 GMT 00:03 UK
Dirt infection link to car crashes
Drivers could be at increased risk
Drivers could be at increased risk
Scientists warn that the parasitical disease toxoplasmosis could increase the risk of having a road accident.

People were found to be two to three times more likely to be involved in a crash than unaffected individuals.

The Czech team which carried out the research said cysts which form in the nerves and muscle tissue could reduce people's ability to concentrate.

But a UK expert cast doubt on the research, saying the findings should be viewed with caution.


These findings should be viewed with caution


Dr Ruth Gilbert, Toxoplasmosis expert
The parasite Toxoplasmosis gondii infects between 30 to 60% of people across the world.

Very few have symptoms because the immune system usually prevents the parasite from causing illness.

This latent, or inactive, form of the disease results in the lifelong presence of cysts in nerve and muscle tissue but is thought to be harmless.

People can be affected if they accidentally swallow infective toxoplasma eggs from soil or other contaminated surfaces.

This can happen by putting touching one's mouth after gardening, cleaning a cat's litter box, or by touching anything that has come into contact with cat faeces.

Pregnant women can also pass toxoplasmosis on to their baby.

'Underestimated problem'

Toxoplasmosis has been shown in laboratory tests to slow response times in people.

A team led by Jaroslav Flegr from the Department of Parasitology at Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic looked at 146 men and women attending a surgical outpatient clinic after a road accident.

They were compared with 446 people who were randomly selected from the local population.

All were screened for toxoplasmosis antibodies.

People with latent toxoplasmosis were found to have a "significantly increased risk" of road accidents.

The risk decreased the longer the person had been infected.

Writing in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases, the researchers said: "These results suggest that 'asymptomatic' acquired toxoplasmosis might in fact represent a serious and highly underestimated public health problem, as well as an economic problem."

The researchers said the increased risk was not due to age, which can also affect people's ability to concentrate.

Chance

Dr Ruth Gilbert, medical coordinator of the European Multicentre Study on Congenital Toxoplasmosis, told BBC News Online the way people in the study were selected raised concerns.

She added: "These findings should be viewed with caution.

"They could be due to chance, or due to social and cultural factors associated with toxoplasma infection.

"At best, they raise a hypothesis which should be tested in more rigorous studies. "

See also:

09 Jan 01 | Health
18 Mar 99 | Health
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