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Crabapple Knoll Veterinary Clinic Client Education Series

Toxoplasma is a tiny parasite that infects cats and people, as well as birds and other animals. This tiny parasite is shed in the feces of infected cats, creating an exposure risk for cat owners and other animals. Cats can become infected when they catch and eat wild animals.

In cats and people, the parasites spread through the body to the lungs, eyes, and brain and can remain in the body for an extended period of time.  Toxoplasma rarely causes serious illness and the fecal shedding of the parasite is limited to 1 to 3 weeks after initial exposure. Most people never become sick if infected, however, severe illness can occur in people who are immune compromised, and there may be severe consequences to babies born to a mother who was infected during pregnancy.  These consequences may include miscarriage, birth defects, blindness, and brain damage. If you think you have been exposed, especially if you're pregnant, talk with your doctor.

People get toxoplasma by eating the parasite in raw or undercooked meats, mussles, and oysters. Other means of infection include not wasing hands after yard work, not washing fruits and vegetables, not washing hands after cleaning the cat box, and drinking contaminated water. Symptoms of infection include flu-like signs, fever, headache and muscle aches, and a sore throat and swollen neck.

Here are some tips to help prevent infection during pregnancy:

1. Eat only well-cooked meats and drink safe water

2. Wash hands thoroughly after gardening, working with sandboxes, and handling raw meat

3. Wash fresh fruits and vegetables to reduce soil contamination

4. Keep cats indoors to minimize their risk of infection

5. Feed cats only commercial cat food or well-cooked meat

6. Have someone else change or clean the litterbox. If this isn't possible, wear gloves and change the litter daily, and wash hands well after changing the litter

7. Clean up cat feces from the yard daily

8. Have you cat examined regularly by your veterinarian and screened for parasites at least once a year

Toxoplasma may not be killed by sewage treatment so throwing feces down the toilet or outdoors could allow the parasites to get into rivers and water supplies.  This parasite can live for months in soil and be carried long distances by water so please help prevent infection of other people and animals by discarding cat feces in plastic bags for disposal in the trash or landfill.

For additional information on Toxoplasma visit the Companion Animal Parasite Council  www.petsandparasites.org