Facts about Toxoplasmosis
Archived Newsletter Summer 2007
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Facts about Toxoplasmosis
If you are pregnant, you may have heard warnings about being around cats or cat litter. This is because of a tiny parasite, Toxoplasma Gondii. Infection with this parasite is called Toxoplasmosis. Although not very dangerous to adults, the parasite may be a risk to the unborn child, resulting in miscarriage, neurological or eye problems, or very rarely, brain problems.
The truth is that Toxoplasma is harder to catch than you may think.
Toxoplasma is transmitted by ingesting (eating) the eggs, or oocysts, of the parasite. These eggs are found in cat faeces. They can remain active for up to a year, so even that old cat poo you sometimes find in the garden could be dangerous. If you eat some. You would have to actually eat some.
It is extremely hard to catch from cat litter. Basic hygiene measure will protect you, such as wearing gloves while changing cat litter or while gardening, or washing your hands afterwards. It also makes sense not to touch your face while gardening.
Many people in the UK have contracted Toxoplasmosis at some time: it is estimated that 30% adults have natural immunity by the age of 25 or 30. It is only dangerous to the unborn child if a mother catches it for the first time while she is pregnant. This is because the parasite can only cross the placenta in the acute phase of illness, before immunity is acquired. Also, infected mums only transmit the infection to around 40-45% of babies.
Cats catch Toxoplasma from eating small wild animals, so your cat cannot catch it if it is an indoor cat. Cats are usually only infectious for the first two weeks of their first infection: this is when the eggs are passed. Then, the cat also develops immunity. In surveys, only around 1% of cats were found to be infectious.
You may also catch Toxoplasma from eating undercooked meat, or from poor food hygiene. Although Toxoplasmosis can be a fearsome disease, we do not need to be paranoid about cats. It is more useful to concentrate on good basic hygiene, and care while gardening.
Tests are available to see if you have an active infection, but in the UK we do not normally test for antibodies (immunity).
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