Home' Southern Health News : October 2014 Contents World-leading research into
common cause of eye disease
BY SARAH KOLAR AND JIAYI LITTEN
Flinders eye and vision specialists are undertaking ground-breaking research to better
understand how a commonly-found parasite travels through the body and interacts with the
immune system, causing one of the most common infections of the eye.
Toxoplasmosis is an infection
caused by a parasite known as
Toxoplasma gondii – a single-celled
organism which is commonly found
throughout the world and infects
birds and mammals.
Humans can become infected with
the Toxoplasma parasite through
contact with infected cat faeces, or
by eating raw or undercooked meat,
including lamb, pork or kangaroo.
Flinders University Professor of
Eye and Vision Health Justine
Smith, who is based at Flinders
Medical Centre, said the infection is
contracted by at least 20 per cent of
the Australian population and may
cause irreversible blindness in those
who develop an infection inside the
“Toxoplasmosis is the most common
infection of the retina,” Professor
“It gets into the body via the mouth
through uncooked meats or after
contact with cat-soiled items – and
then it either travels freely in the
blood stream or hijacks white blood
cells to reach the eye.
“From there it finds its way into the
retina where it may move around
to infect many cells. This ultimately
results in scarring of the retina.
“Symptoms can include floaters
(dark specks or spots in front of your
eyes) and blurred vision.
“We’re trying to find out how the
bug interacts with the immune
system and how that might cause a
person to have less severe or more
She said women who contracted
the bug while pregnant were at risk
of passing the infection onto their
unborn baby, causing very severe
infections and even still-birth.
Professor Smith, who recently
presented the research to 12,000
eye researchers at the Association
for Research in Vision and
Ophthalmology conference in
the US, said little had been done
internationally to better understand
Ways to prevent
Wash hands after handling
Cook meat (including
kangaroo meat) thoroughly
until the juices run clear
Do not eat rare or medium-
rare meat dishes
Wash vegetables to remove
any traces of soil
Wash hands thoroughly before
Immediately wash cutting
boards, knives and any other
implements that have come
into contact with raw meat
Wear gloves while gardening
Avoid contact with cats when
If pregnant, get someone else
to handle litter trays
Make sure cat litter trays are
the workings of the parasite in
“Toxoplasmosis is completely
preventable but not curable. You
only need one bug to catch the
infection – it’s like the cold sore
virus, once you’ve got it you can’t
get rid of it,” she said.
“The bug is able to infect a person,
do some damage to the eye, and
then reactivate – on average every
five years – causing more and more
“We started this research with
the hope of finding a cure, but we
found that the more research we do,
the more we understand how smart
this parasite is.
“Treatment of this infection is
difficult – so prevention may be the
She said policy and a public
awareness campaign about the
infection may need to be considered
at a government level into the
Think pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Top five reasons why women
over 50 should have a
regular breast screen
Breast cancer - it has touched many
of us, either through personal
experience or someone we know.
We can’t prevent it, but if you’re
a woman aged over 50 there is
something proactive you can do. You
can have a free, two-yearly breast
screen with BreastScreen SA (BSSA)
to help detect breast cancer early. If
you’re still deciding whether breast
screening is right for you, here are a
couple of facts to consider:
1. It could save your life.
A screening mammogram (breast
X-ray) is currently the only clinically
proven way to detect breast cancer
early, before symptoms can be felt.
This gives women a greater chance
of more successful treatment.
2. 75 per cent of all breast cancer
cases in Australia are diagnosed
in women over 50.
This is why BSSA targets women aged
over 50 and strongly recommends
they participate in regular breast
screening until the age of 74. With
1 in 10 SA women over 50 being
diagnosed, and 9 out of 10 having no
family history of breast cancer, do it
for yourself and your family.
3. BSSA has a team of leading
specialists working for the
Some of South Australia’s premier
breast specialists (surgeons,
radiologists and pathologists) work
as part of BSSA’s clinical team.
Together with stringent quality
assurance and national accreditation
standards, women attending BSSA
can be reassured that they receive
the highest quality care and service.
4. It’s fast – an appointment can
take less than 10 minutes.
Often women think they are ‘too
busy for a breast screen’. We lead
busy lives, juggling work and family
commitments. But an appointment
with BSSA can take less than 10
minutes, with Saturday morning
appointments offered at some of its
seven metropolitan clinics.
5. It’s free, and you don’t need a
So if you’re a woman over 50,
call BSSA on 13 20 50 to make
an appointment or visit www.
It might just save your life.
12 / OCTOBER 2014 / SOUTHERN HEALTH NEWS
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