What is toxoplasmosis? It is a disease caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, a single–celled organism that can infect most birds and animals. Since it reproduces only in cats, domestic and wild felines are the parasitic organism’s ultimate host. It can be found in soil where cats defecate, cat feces, meat, and unpasteurized goat milk. Toxoplasma gondii is one of the world’s most common parasites. Following infection through eating mice, birds, or other raw meat, cats, especially sick cats, can shed infectious faces for about two weeks.
Toxoplasmosis may cause flu–like symptoms in humans, including body aches, headache, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, and fever. However, most people infected never develop symptoms and signs. People may become infected in any of the following ways:
- Consuming unpasteurized milk from infected goats.
- Consuming the organism in water or soil with contaminated cat feces.
- Eating undercooked or raw meat from infected animals, particularly pigs, sheep, deer, and cows.
- Transmission of the parasitic organism from mother to unborn baby across the placenta.
- Transmission from infected matter entering body fluids.
- Transmission from transplanted organs or blood products.
However, people who own a cat should not be afraid of stroking it or playing with it. One can only get infected by coming into contact with infected cat feces. In addition, person–to–person infection is impossible, except from pregnant mother to unborn child. When infected, the incubation period for toxoplasmosis is 5 — 23 days.
How to avoid infection during pregnancy
- Avoid raw cured meat.
- Avoid eating undercooked or raw meat.
- Avoid drinking unpasteurized goat milk or eating dairy products made from it.
- Wash hands, utensils, and chopping boards carefully after preparing raw meat.
- Always wash vegetables and fruits thoroughly before eating or cooking to remove all traces of soil.
- Wear gloves when gardening and wash them afterwards.
- Always wash hands after gardening.
- Cover kids’ sandpits to prevent cats from using them as litter boxes.
- Avoid handling lambing ewes.
- Wash gloves and hands after handling litter trays.
Toxoplasmosis can be dangerous to people whose immune system is compromised or underdeveloped, as in the case of people with HIV/AIDS or on immune–suppressant medications, or unborn babies. In such cases, the immune system is unable to contain the spread of the parasitic organism, which can cause serious damage.
The Surgeon’s Scrubroom offers more information about toxoplasmosis and a number of other ailments; follow us for all the medical and health articles that can help you live a fuller life.