New Information On Toxoplasmosis Risks

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.

Toxoplasmosis and pregnancy

Does this catch your attention?! Original photo

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:

Elisa

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Comments

New Information On Toxoplasmosis Risks — 9 Comments

  1. I’ve been watching that show “Monsters Inside Me” a lot lately, and it seems to me more people contract nasty parasites from dogs than from cats. So why is just the cat getting a bad rap? On one episode this toddler nearly died from worms contracted from dogs– not from the family cat. I’ve yet to see an episode where the monster inside the person came from the cat. It’s been from dogs quite a few times. But the cat is treated like the monster in the press. It’s my feeling that there is less risk of contracting something from your cat than from most other animals. It all goes back to good hand hygiene anyway. Also, it seems to me that it’s better to live in a cold climate. There seems to be more dangers from parasites in places with very warm or even tropical climates. People fear contracting something from their cat but then happily hop on a plane to some exotic destination which in reality holds a lot more dangers for them. Again, the cat gets the bad rap while actual dangers are ignored.

    • A wise comment. The media is not good for the cat. And warm weather creates all kinds of health problems in relation to parasites.

      I am sure that toxoplasmosis is over-egged. The internet just copies stuff and gradually people get the wrong message. The internet is a dangerous place for information. It tends to follow trends. And trends are not always correct and right.

  2. I believe if we just practice good hygiene with hand washing and sterilizing things that need to be sterilized we’ll be ok. We should do that anyway. I’ve never been afraid of contracting anything from my cats.

  3. Great article, it puts everything into perspective. My ex girlfriends brother and his girlfriend had a baby and they were so paranoid they wouldn’t go near our cats. We found that to be ridiculous. He was at the time working outside in their parents garden planting vegetables. It was truly absurd but they would not listen to any kind of argument we had. It became that we could not both go to the countryside house at the same time because we would bring our cats. By the way, there were cats already living in the area and passing through that garden so it didnt change a thing. This article really clarifies that its not just the cat and its got more to do with general hygiene than having cats in some ways. They are having another baby and although I am no longer in Slovenia my ex says its the same thing all over again. They wont go near her because of her cats. She stopped giving a sh** when she realised they don’t want to look it up online for themselves but would rather just be paranoid and stay that way without educating themselves. This is what really bothers me. This kind of thinking. This is why the cat ends up getting a bad rap. Its lack of wanting to learn and lack of caring about cats. They have a dog too who is constantly rolling around in dirt and then goes right up to the baby. You have no idea how ridiculous the whole thing is.
    But to conclude this little example, its a good example to demonstrate how it continues that cats get picked on overly for such a situation. Its nothing more than ignorance. By ignorance I mean it literally as ignoring, as in, ignoring the facts and leaving it 100% on the cat, and not on anything else. I’m sure if the worst happened they would blame the cats anyway. What to do? We tried telling them to look it up to no avail so it just stood still. And there you have it. ‘Cats are the only real bad thing in what causes toxoplasmosis so pregnant women should not ever go near any cat but can kiss a dog who rolls around in the dirt and can do gardening etc etc’ – I find this sort of thing very annoying and frustrating.

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