Protect yourself against toxoplasmosis, a potentially serious infection humans can contract from cat faeces.

Toxoplasmosis is a potentially serious infection caused by a parasite, Toxoplasma gondii. One source of Toxoplasma is cat faeces.

Who is at risk?

Toxoplasmosis is transmitted to humans if they don’t wash their hands after coming into contact with cat faeces, while gardening or cleaning out cat litter trays, or when children play in sandboxes. It can also be spread by eating unwashed fruit and vegetables, grown in soil contaminated by cat faeces. Eating raw or undercooked meat or eggs, or drinking unpasteurised milk also exposes people to the dormant form of the parasite.

Toxoplasma reproduces in the cells lining the intestines of cats. The eggs are shed in their faeces. Cats get this infection from eating infected rodents, or by being in contact with other infected cats or their faeces.

In people with normal immune function, Toxoplasma organisms remain in the body tissues as cysts that don’t usually cause disease.

If the immune system becomes weakened, as in people with HIV/Aids, Toxoplasma can lead to potentially life-threatening brain infections.

It is also dangerous to a pregnant woman, who can transfer the infection to her foetus. This can cause miscarriage or stillbirth. If the child survives, it can suffer from blindness, jaundice, convulsions and severe mental retardation.

How do you know if you have toxoplasmosis?

If a person has acquired toxoplasmosis after birth, there are seldom any symptoms. Possible symptoms include fever, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes.

Toxoplasmosis can be diagnosed with a blood test. In the case of immune-compromised patients, a brain scan may also be required.

Can it be treated?

Generally the prognosis for people who acquired toxoplasmosis after birth is good. Most people who have a well-functioning immune system need no treatment at all and the disease disappears by itself. For pregnant women or persons who have weakened immune systems, drugs are available to treat toxoplasmosis.

Prevention: good hygiene

Toxoplasmosis can be avoided with some straightforward hygiene practises:

  • Pregnant women and immuno-compromised people should not handle cat litter.
  • Other people should only clean litter boxes while wearing plastic gloves, and hands should be washed well afterwards using hot water and disinfectant soap.
  • Children’s sandboxes should be kept covered so that animals canot soil them.
  • Vegetables should be washed properly and hands washed after handling raw meat. Meat should be cooked properly.
  • Gloves should be worn while gardening and hands should be properly washed afterwards.

 

Health24. Read more about toxoplasmosis

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