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Toxoplasmosis is caused by a small parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which lives in animal tissues. The cat is the primary host. Toxoplasma is widespread in nature and can infect birds and a variety of mammals, including people.
Cats contract toxoplasmosis by eating infected raw meat, infective eggs in feces or contaminated water. Infected cats may or may not show illness. Signs include diarrhea, fever, labored breathing, enlarged lymph nodes, eye inflammation and occasionally death. Cats usually develop immunity to toxoplasmosis after the initial infection and never pass eggs again unless they become immunosuppressed (as in Feline Leukemia or Feline Immunodefeciency Syndrome).
Other animals and people become infected by eating the incubated eggs or uncooked meat containing Toxoplasma cysts. Toxoplasma may invade and form cysts in such organs as the brain, heart and skeletal muscle.
Pubic Health Significance
A woman who plans to have a child can be tested for antibodies
to Toxoplasma before becoming pregnant. If she has antibodies,
then she and her unborn child will not be infected. If she has
no antibodies, then she could transmit the organism to her unborn
child if she became infected during pregnancy. You should discuss
the blood test for Toxoplasma antibodies with your physician before
Cat Management in a Household with an Expectant Mother
1. Your cat's blood can be tested for antibodies. Two tests, 2-3 weeks apart, are recommended. If infected, your cat can be treated for toxoplasmosis. However, in general a cat that has antibodies for toxoplasmosis has had infection for a long period of time and is probably immune to the development of egg sheding
2. Your cat's stool can be checked for eggs. The expectant mother should not handle the stool sample.
3. Pregnant women should not clean the litter box. The litter box should be emptied daily.
4. Children's sand boxes should be covered when not in use.
5. Cats should not be allowed to catch rodents or birds, or to eat raw meat. In other word it would be wise if the cats were not allowed to go outside where they might hunt.
6. Do not allow stray cats into the household.
7. Wash your hands after petting or handling the cat.
Pregnancy does not mean that you cannot own a cat, but common sense should prevail. Eating raw or undercooked meat is probably a much more important source of human toxoplasmosis than cats. Heating meat to at least 150 F kills Toxoplasma.