Flegr J. 2021: Toxoplasmosis is a risk factor for acquiring SARS-CoV-2 infection and a severe course of COVID-19 in the Czech and Slovak population: A preregistered exploratory internet cross-sectional study. Parasites and Vectors, 14: 508. DOI: 10.1186/s13071-021-05021-9
Latent toxoplasmosis, i.e. a lifelong infection with the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii, affects about a third of the human population worldwide. In the past 10 years, numerous studies have shown that infected individuals have a significantly higher incidence of mental and physical health problems and are more prone to exhibiting the adverse effects of various diseases.
A cross-sectional internet study was performed on a population of 4499 (786 Toxoplasma-infected) participants and looked for factors which positively or negatively affect the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection and likelihood of a severe course of COVID-19.
Logistic regression and partial Kendall correlation controlling for sex, age, and size of the place of residence showed that latent toxoplasmosis had the strongest effect on the risk of infection (OR = 1.50) before sport (OR = 1.30) and borreliosis (1.27). It also had the strongest effect on the risk of severe course of infection (Tau = 0.146), before autoimmunity, immunodeficiency, male sex, keeping a cat, being overweight, borreliosis, higher age, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Toxoplasmosis augmented the adverse effects of other risk factors but was not the proximal cause of the effect of cat-keeping on higher likelihood of COVID infection and higher severity of the course of infection because the effect of cat-keeping was also observed (and in particular) in a subset of Toxoplasma-infected respondents (Tau = 0.153). Effects of keeping a cat were detected only in respondents from multi-member families, suggesting that a cat could be a vector for the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 within a family.
Toxoplasmosis is currently not considered a risk factor for COVID-19, and Toxoplasma-infected individuals are neither informed about their higher risk nor prioritised in vaccination programs. Because toxoplasmosis affects a large segment of the human population, its impact on COVID-19-associated effects on public health could be considerable.