T. gondii is transmitted by consumption of oocysts (the reproductive form of the parasite) from cat feces in the environment, consumption of infected meat, and from transfer of the parasite from a mother to her fetus. Healthy adult dogs and cats often show no signs of infection, but puppies and kittens may suffer from heart, liver, vision or neurological problems. Signs of infection may include diarrhea, cough, seizures and death, but are usually not sufficient alone for a diagnosis. Laboratory tests must be done to confirm the infection. Immune-compromised animals, such as cats with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), are more susceptible to developing severe infections.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, "Toxoplasmosis is considered to be a leading case of death attributed to foodborne illness in the United States."
The majority of people who become infected only suffer from mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. For newly pregnant women and individuals with a compromised immune system, toxoplasmosis can have severe consequences. Women who are infected just before becoming pregnant or during their pregnancy are at risk for miscarriage or delivering babies with birth defects.
You can reduce your risk of infection and that of your pets as well by keeping these simple tips in mind:
- Clean litter boxes daily. Toxoplasmosis takes more than one day to become infectious.
- If you are pregnant or immune-compromised, ask someone else to clean the litterbox. If this isn't possible, wear gloves, and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after cleaning.
- Keep outdoor sandboxes covered when not in use.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after contact with soil, sand, unwashed fruits and vegetables, and raw meat.
- Do not eat undercooked meat (especially lamb, pork or venison), and wash all utensils and cutting boards that come in contact with raw meat.
- Do not feed raw meat to your cats.
- Keep your cats indoors to prevent them from hunting.