Toxoplasmosis, caused by a one-celled parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, is one of the most widespread infections in the world, affecting roughly 50% of the world’s population, regardless of gender. Generally a mild, harmless infection, Toxoplasmosis can be of grave concern to pregnant women because of the risk of birth defects due to congenital toxoplasmosis.
Cats can acquire the parasite by eating an infected rodent or bird. They then can transmit the parasite from their feces into the litter box, or wherever they may defecate such as the garden or a child’s sandbox. Up to 60% of all domestic cats harbor Toxoplasma in their body, but surprisingly, they only release infectious particles for 3 weeks in their lifetime, occurring after they have become infected.
Toxoplasmosis can also be acquired from eating raw or undercooked meat such as beef, pork or lamb and throughout the world; this is the most common means by which people become infected.
Prevention of Toxoplasmosis
- Avoid contact with cat litter or wear gloves. Wear gloves while gardening because the organisms can live in the soil. Cats also like to defecate in children’s sandboxes.
- Cook all meat, particularly sheep, beef, and pork, to a minimum of 150 degrees Fahrenheit (66 degrees C). Cook poultry to 180 degrees F.
- Thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables, or peel them. Using soap and hot water, wash all surfaces that have come into contact with raw meat or poultry.
- Do not drink unpasteurized milk or milk products, especially goat’s milk products.