What is Toxoplasma gondii?
Toxoplasmosis is caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. The parasite is common in warm-blooded animals including cats, rats, mice, pigs, cows, sheep, chickens,and birds. In healthy children and adults, toxoplasmosis may cause no symptoms at all, or may cause a mild illness (swollen lymphglands, fever, headache, and muscle aches) 5-23 days after exposure. However, Toxoplasmosis is a very severe infection for unborn babies and for people with immune system disorders.
Unborn babies catch this parasite from their mother if the mother is infected during pregnancy, especially during the first three months. Unborn babies are at risk of severe infection that may result in mental retardation, blindness, or death. People who have had toxoplasmosis in the past and then develop problems with their immune systems (such as AIDS) can have severe infections of the brain that may lead to death. Infections can be treated with antibiotics.
To prevent infections:
- Throw cat litter out every day.
- Feed cats commercial cat food.
- Don't let cats eat wild rodents, birds or raw or undercooked kitchen scraps.
- Cook lamb, beef, and pork until well done.
- Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating.
- Eliminate cross-contamination from raw foods to cooked ones by washing hands, cutting boards, knives, and other utensils thoroughly.
- Wash hands thoroughly after working with soil, cleaning litter boxes, before and after handling foods, and before eating.
- Cover sandboxes when not in use.
- Persons with weakened immune systems and pregnant women should be particularly careful to avoid contact with cat feces and soil and to avoid ingestion of undercooked meats.