Toxoplasmosis is a condition that can be transmitted by cats. It is caused by a parasite that lives in the faeces of cats, so it usually only occurs when handling cat faeces, such as changing cat litter trays. Young children may also catch this parasite after playing in soil that may have been contaminated by cat faeces. It may also be present in meat from animals that have been exposed to cat faeces.
Generally toxoplasmosis is not dangerous, unless you are pregnant. It can cause birth defects in the unborn child, or when you have lowered immunity, such as those undertaking chemotherapy.
Those infected with this parasite may develop aches and pains, and may develop swollen lymph glands, for example in the armpits or groin. The parasite may result in damage to the eyes or brain in those affected.
However, most infestations are minor. A pregnant woman may not realise that she has been affected by this condition, so must be extra careful to avoid being affected if around cats. The first sign that she may have been affected is often the premature delivery of her baby who may have damaged eyes, ears or nervous system.
The only treatment for those that are severely affected by toxoplasmosis are medicines normally used to prevent malaria. In New Zealand these are not widely used in pregnant women unless there is clear evidence that their use is essential.
Pregnant women, or those wishing to become pregnant, are advised to prevent potential toxoplasmosis by avoiding exposure to cat faeces. They should avoid emptying cat litter trays or gardening without gloves in areas where cats are known to live or use as a toilet. All meat should be thoroughly cooked, and all food preparation areas and equipment washed and cleaned if in contact with raw meat.
Pregnant women do not need to avoid all contact with cats, but should wash their hands thoroughly after handling any cat or other items that may have been in contact with cats before they eat or drink.
Consult your community pharmacist for advice about toxoplasmosis. They can advise you on how you may continue to enjoy the benefits of cat ownership and companionship without exposing yourselves to the unnecessary risk of contracting this or other conditions from your cat.