Toxoplasmosis is a single-celled parasite that is found throughout the United States and can infect any warm-blooded animal, bird or human. You may be at a higher risk of contracting Toxoplasmosis if you work with animals. However, the parasite rarely causes significant clinical diseases in cats or any species.
The eggs, or oocysts are ingested by rodents, birds, or other ground feeding mammals such as sheep, cattle, goats and pigs which then migrate to the brain and muscle tissue. When an intermediate host eats an infected prey, the parasite is released into the mammalsí intestinal system and is passed into the feces where the life cycle is repeated.
The danger lies in the fact that any warm-blooded host, the T.gondii can also be transmitted in utero (or across the placenta) and through the milk. In the United States, people are more likely to become infected with Toxoplasmosis through eating unwashed fruits and vegetables or raw meat then from handling cat feces.
Cats are the primary hosts of T.gondii as they are they only mammals in which the parasite is passed through the feces. Because cats only shed the parasite for only a few days in their entire life, the chance of human exposure is very small. Having a cat does not mean you will come down with Toxoplasmosis and it is very unlikely you would be exposed by touching an infected cat merely due to the fact that they do not carry the T.gondii on itís fur. If you are unsure if your cat has Toxoplasmosis you can contact your local veterinary hospital and speak to a veterinary assistant for testing. Cat bite and scratches also will not infect humans with the disease.
Common symptoms include fever, lethargy and loss of appetite. However, most infected pregnant women do not exhibit symptoms. Treatment for toxoplasmosis requires a course of antibiotics or other drugs that will inhibit the T.Gondi reproduction. The treatment needs to start as soon as a diagnosis is made and must be continued for several days after the signs have disappeared.
Pregnant women or people who are immunodeficient (someone is who is undergoing a immunosuppressive therapy such as for cancer or organ transplant) are at the highest risk.
There are several factors that will reduce the risk of becoming infected:
- Wear gloves while gardening and wash hands when done.
- Wash fruits and vegetables before eating.
- Keep childrenís sandboxes covered.
- Do not eat undercooked or raw meat.
- Wash hand prior to eating.
- Remove feces from litter box daily. However, people with suppressed immune systems or pregnant women should not clean the litter box.
- Donít drink unpasteurized milk
- Clean food prep areas with warm, soapy water after handling raw meat.
- Boil any water that is taken from the streams or ponds.
- Control the rodent population or other intermediate hosts.