Parasite infection – Cats, raw meat and pregnant women

Toxoplasmosis is more likely to occur in cats with suppressed immune systems, including young kittens and cats with feline leukemia virus (FeLV) or feline immunodefi ciency virus (FIV). Picture: www.commonwealthvet.com

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

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

The most common signs of toxoplasmosis include fever, loss of appetite, and lethargy. Other symptoms may occur depending upon whether the infection has come on suddenly, or has been lingering, and the location of the parasite in the body.

In the lungs, toxoplasma gondii infection can lead to pneumonia, which will cause difficulty breathing that gradually worsens. Infections affecting the liver may cause a yellowish tinge to the skin and mucous membranes (jaundice).

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

The necessity of laboratory testing for animal disease, especially those diseases which can affect humans (zoonotic) once again high-lights a need for an appropriate facility locally.

People become infected with toxoplasmosis 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, lamb, or wild game) that have been infected with toxoplasma.

• Directly from a pregnant woman to her unborn child when the mother becomes 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 one day to become infectious. Especially if you have kittens – younger cats are more like to be releasing toxoplasma in their feces.

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

• Cover any outdoor sandboxes when not in use to keep cats from defecating in them.

• Wear gloves when gardening, or use appropriate gardening tools. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water afterwards.

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

• Wash all kitchen supplies (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 health care provider about getting a blood test to determine if you have been infected with toxoplasma.

Do I have to get rid of my cat? No, you do not have to give up your cat.

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

It is unlikely that you would be exposed to the parasite by touching an infected cat because cats usually do not carry the parasite on their fur.

In addition, cats kept indoors (that do not hunt prey or are not fed raw meat) are not likely to be infected with toxoplasma.

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

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

As I step over a dead rat this morning – likely seeking refuge from the rain – I am reminded of how valuable 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 information on this disease in people go to https://www.vet.cornell. edu/departments-centersandinstitutes/cornell-felinehealth-center for information on 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 newspaper.

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