The Fiji Times » Parasitic infection – Cats, raw meat and pregnant women

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a single-celled microscopic parasite called toxoplasma gondii. Clinical signs in cats Most cats infected with Toxoplasma gondii show no signs of disease.

Occasionally, however, a clinical illness called toxoplasmosis occurs, often when the cat’s immune response cannot stop the spread. The disease is more likely to occur in cats with weakened immune systems, including young kittens and cats with feline leukemia virus (FeLV) or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).

The most common signs of toxoplasmosis are fever, loss of appetite and lethargy. Other symptoms may occur depending on whether the infection started suddenly or persists and on the location of the parasite in the body.

In the lungs, infection with Toxoplasma gondii can lead to pneumonia, which will lead to breathing difficulties that get progressively worse. Infections affecting the liver can cause a yellowish tint to the skin and mucous membranes (jaundice).

Toxoplasmosis can also affect the eyes and central nervous system (brain and spine) and can cause various eye and nerve signs. Diagnosis Toxoplasmosis is usually diagnosed based on the cat’s history, signs of illness, and lab test results.

The need for laboratory testing for animal diseases, especially diseases that can affect humans (zoonotic) again highlights the need for a locally appropriate facility.

People are infected with toxoplasmosis in several ways:

• Eating food, drinking water, or accidentally swallowing soil that has been contaminated with infected cat feces.

• Eating raw or undercooked meat from animals (especially pigs, lambs or wild game) that have been infected with Toxoplasma.

• Directly from a pregnant woman to her unborn child when the mother is infected with Toxoplasma just before or during pregnancy. Several steps can be taken to protect yourself and others from toxoplasmosis:

• Change cat litter boxes daily. Toxoplasma takes more than a day to become infectious. Especially if you have kittens – young cats are more likely to release toxoplasma in their feces.

• If you are pregnant or have a weakened immune system, have someone else change the litter box. If this is not possible, wear disposable gloves and then wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

• Cover all outdoor sandboxes when not in use to prevent cats from defecating there.

• Wear gloves when gardening or using proper gardening tools. Then wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

• Do not eat undercooked meat. Cook whole cuts of meat to at least 145°F (63°C) with a three-minute rest, and ground meat and wild game to at least 160°F (71°C).

• Wash all kitchen utensils (such as knives and cutting boards) that have been in contact with raw meat.

• If you have a weakened immune system, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider about having a blood test to determine if you have been infected with Toxoplasma.

Should I get rid of my cat? No, you don’t have to give up your cat.

Owning a cat does not mean you will be infected with the parasite.

You are unlikely to be exposed to the parasite by touching an infected cat, as cats do not usually carry the parasite on their fur.

Additionally, cats kept indoors (that do not hunt prey or are fed raw meat) are not susceptible to infection with Toxoplasma.

But, if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or have a weakened immune system, it is important to protect yourself against infection.

There is no vaccine to protect against toxoplasmosis in animals or humans.

As I step over a dead rat this morning – probably seeking shelter from the rain – I remember how precious my cats are. Go to https://www.cdc. gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/resources/printresources/catowners_2017.pdf

For a brief from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more information about this disease in people, go to edu/departments-centersandinstitutes/cornell-felinehealth-center for information about this disease in your cat.

• JO OLVER is a doctor of veterinary medicine. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the views of this journal.