By Elisa Black-Taylor
I’m sure all cat lovers have heard about the risks of toxoplasmosis to pregnant women, including the risk to babies being born blind or with brain damage. Toxoplasmosis can also cause serious complications to anyone with a weakened immune system. Apparently there are a lot more concerns being voiced on how the illness can be contracted.
The BBC News recently did an excellent article I’d like to share with the readers here. It ran on September 4, 2012. Their studies show that 350,000 people in the UK become infected each year with toxoplasmosis. What’s really frightening is that only 10-20% show any symptoms.
Symptoms in humans are flu-like and may go away without treatment. Serious complications, especially in those with compromised immune systems, include fever, lethargy, blindness, mental retardation, seizures, coma or death. In cats, symptoms are neurological with decreased appetite and weight loss. However most cats are asymptomatic.
I found it interesting that once infected, a person is immune for life and can’t be infected again.
I chose to write this article as Thanksgiving and the holidays approach, as it brings people together. Sometimes in a home where a cat litter box may be tempting to small children, and other times outdoors where the family gathering may not have cats.
That’s the part of this report I find scary, as my family had a tradition after Thanksgiving dinner of going outside and enjoying the usually cold and windy day. The boys and men would play football and the women would gather beneath the pecan tree and gather the fallen nuts, which would later be used in everything from pies to cakes. The youngest children would gather a pile of leaves and jump into them over and over. I remember those days, although I don’t recall why it was so much fun jumping into those leaves! Do kids still do that anymore?
The outdoor activities is where the danger of contracting toxoplasmosis gets scary. You don’t even have to have a cat to become infected. If a stray cat leaves feces in piles of leaves or in the soil, the risk is there. Anyone who enjoys the outdoors needs to be aware of the risk at all times.
Toxoplasmosis can also be contracted by eating undercooked meat from animals harboring the organism. This is one reason to cook meat thoroughly (different temperatures, depending on the type of meat). The Food Standards Agency, located in the UK, reports it’s still safe to enjoy meat rare. Personally, I don’t think I’d chance it since the danger of food poisoning may still exist.
Toxoplasmosis is no reason not to have a cat or to get rid of the cat you already have. People should be vigilant about food preparation and wash all fruits and vegetables before using. Gardeners should wear gloves while working with the soil. I still like the term “playing in the dirt” because gardening to me brings back memories from childhood of helping plant that summer garden. I’m not sure about other countries, but those in the U.S. who garden take their work or hobby seriously. I’m not sure how many of those who have gardens realize the toxoplasmosis danger is there, even if they don’t have a cat.
I also find it interesting that pregnant women should stay away from sheep and newborn lambs because they may be infected. I wonder if the same holds true for cattle? However, cats are the only animal that can spread the infection through their feces.
The precautions recommended to prevent toxoplasmosis are basically what we’ve been taught to prevent any type of infection. They include:
- Food preparation- wash hands, knives, cutting boards and anything else used to prepare food
- Cook meat thoroughly
- Stream water should be boiled before drinking to kill the infectious oocysts
- Wear gloves when gardening (even if you don’t have a cat)
- Change cat litter regularly, making sure not to breathe in the dusk. Dispose of cat litter in an air-tight bag, as toxoplasmosis parasites can live a long time in the litter
- Don’t allow your cat to hunt wildlife
I hope I’ve written this article on the new information on toxoplasmosis risks in an easy to understand format. Michael (PoC) has done many in-depth articles here on the subject for those of you needing more information. For example:
- Toxoplasmosis and its prevention – general overview on the topic.
- The truth about toxoplasmosis – read this for a good balancing post on the subject.
- there are many more…