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Toxoplasmosis - What is It?

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a microscopic parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. It is present in many warm-blooded animals but has only been found to reproduce in the guts of cats.

Cats can pick up the parasite via other cats feces or in digesting it via raw meat that may contain the parasite. Cats that hunt and eat birds and mice are therefore more prone to the infection.

The eggs of the parasite are passed through the cat into their feces for only a short time after the cat first becomes infected. The eggs become infectious 24 hours after being passed and only once they have been swallowed.

Humans can be infected by ingesting the parasite either in the egg or larval form. This can be done either by eating uncooked meat or drinking un-pasteurised milk or by coming into contact with infected soil or unwashed vegetables that have been exposed to infected cat feces. The eggs can remain and survive in soil for up to 18 months, so precautions should always be taken when handling soil from any garden.

The symptoms of the infection can be varied and depends on the area of the body infected. They range from vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice and inflammation of the iris, however only one or two of these symptoms will be displayed in each cat. If the brain is infected then symptoms may include unsteadiness on their feet and walking around in circles. If any of these symptoms are displayed then a vet will do a simple blood test to see if the parasite is present in the blood stream. In some minor cases antibiotics will be able to clear the infection up.

In the rare occasions that a human becomes infected the symptoms are similar to flu or glandular fever. This is not life threatening and for those who are generally fit and healthy will pass after a short while. However for those with a compromised immune system such as in cases of HIV or AIDS it may become more dangerous. Babies are also more vulnerable as their immune system will not be strong enough to cope with the infection.

Pregnant women need to be particularly careful to avoid the infection, as there is a 40% risk that it could affect the unborn child, causing possible eyesight problems later in their life. Again antibiotic treatment can reduce these risks if the infection is detected early.

To give your self the best chance of avoiding the infection is to follow these simple steps when coming into contact with possible infected sources.

Avoid eating raw or uncooked meat, make sure that meals are well cooked this is especially important if you pregnant.

When handling raw meats, fruits and vegetables always make sure you wash your hands immediately afterwards to avoid spreading any possible infection. Work surfaces and knives should also be clean immediately afterwards.

Wear rubber gloves when cleaning out the litter tray. If pregnant it may be advisable to ask someone else to do this for you. The litter tray should also be thoroughly cleaned and washed out often.

Clean up any cat feces as soon as possible, because the eggs do not become infectious until 24 hours later, the earlier it can be removed the safer it is to handle.

When gardening it is a good idea to wear gloves, this will prevent any hand to mouth infection from contaminated soil.

Cats can also catch the infection from raw meat or untreated milk, so it is best not to feed them this sort of food either.

More cat health and cat care tips can be found at our site A feline friendly community full of helpful advice and fun things to do to make sure you have a happy cat and a happy you.

Copyright 2007 Kate Tilmouth

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