Toxoplasmosis, an infection caused by coming into contact with feces that contains the T. gondii parasite. Only a single oocyst is needed to cause the infection. In some healthy people, the infection may remain dormant for a period of time or permanently, while others may see symptoms begin to develop right away.
Humans, like other animals such as sheep, cattle and birds, can be infected in a number of ways, including:
- Consuming contaminated food or drink - animals may get the parasite by ingesting cat feces that is infected. Humans may contract it by eating meat that is undercooked or consuming dairy products that are unpasteurized, as well as eating fruits and vegetables that have not been thoroughly washed.
- Using contaminated utensils or cutting boards - kitchen utensils can harbor the parasites if not properly washed after used to prepare raw meats.
- Coming into contact with infected cat feces - if a person touches anything that has been in contact with cat dung that contains the parasite and then accidently touches his or her mouth, they could contract toxoplasmosis.
Torrey and other researchers believe there may also be a link between genetics and a person's predisposition towards contracting the infection, as well as their age at the time of exposure.
In most people, the symptoms of toxoplasmosis are similar to those of the common cold or the flu. They include:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Body aches and headache
People with weakened immune systems, such as babies or the elderly, as well as those who have HIV/AIDS or who are undergoing chemotherapy treatment, the symptoms can be much more serious and include:
- Enlarging of the liver and/or spleen
- Blurred vision and/or eye infections
- Poor coordination
- Lung problems
The vast majority of the time, for healthy people, toxoplasmosis will clear up without medical treatment. In severe or precarious situations, however, a doctor may use antibiotics, such as pyrimethamine (daraprim), spiramycin or sulfadiazine to treat an acute infection.
Cats are beloved pets for many people all over the world. According to studies, only approximately 1 percent of cats pass feces infected with the oocysts, but with the numbers of feral and domestic cats increasingly rising, so is the chance for people to contract toxoplasmosis. Some methods for preventing the spread or contraction of the infection include:
- Control cat populations, especially the numbers of feral cats
- Cover up children's sandboxes
- Wear gloves when you garden and always thoroughly wash all of your fruits and vegetables
- Refrain from feeding your cat raw or undercooked meat
- Thoroughly wash kitchen utensils, and hands, after preparing raw meats
- Wear gloves and a face mask when you clean your cat's litter box
- Wash hands thoroughly with hot, soapy water after changing litter box or touching anything that may have come into contact with cat feces.
- Regularly change and properly dispose of cat litter
- Avoid eating undercooked or raw meat, especially beef, pork and lamb
- Don't consume unpasteurized dairy products
There is still work that needs to be done by researchers in order to better understand the parasites and the infections they cause. Keeping these prevention tips in mind, however, may be able to help you avoid contracting toxoplasmosis, so you can stay healthy and continue to enjoy your cat!