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Description: Toxoplasmosis is an infection in mammals caused by a microscopic parasite, a protozoan called Toxoplasmosis gondii.

Cause: People catch toxoplasmosis by eating or handling raw or undercooked meat that’s infected with the parasite’s eggs (especially pork, lamb, or venison) or through direct contact with infected feces (usually from cats) or contaminated soil. Most people are likely to become infected after cleaning a cat’s litter box or gardening. They may touch contaminated soil or other fouled objects, forget to wash their hands, and then transfer the eggs to their mouths.

Symptoms: Flu-like symptoms; people with compromised immune systems are at greater risk for developing a much more severe infection; and severe infections may result in brain damage or death.

Treatment: In an otherwise healthy person who is not pregnant, treatment is often not needed. Symptoms will usually go away within a few weeks. For pregnant women or people who have weakened immune systems, drugs are available to treat toxoplasmosis. There are tests to determine if a fetus is infected; if so, medication may prevent or reduce the severity of the effects of the infection.

Other Facts:

  • Relax, and consider this in perspective. First, toxoplasmosis is more of a concern if you’re pregnant or have a compromised immune system. Even if you fit either of those categories, you can still wash your hands! That’s a pretty simple way to avoid contracting this disease;
  • There’s no need to get rid of pet cats or avoid adopting a cat. To prevent infections, keep cats indoors and feed them dry or canned cat food.
  • Feral cats, stray cats, and pets that are allowed to roam outdoors may eat infected small mammals and defecate on your property. Remove food sources to discourage stray cats.
  • Avoid handling stray cats, especially kittens. If you want to adopt a stray, or don’t know whether or not a cat you’d like to adopt roamed outdoors or was fed raw meat, talk to your veterinarian before you bring the cat into your home.
  • Cover sandboxes, and carefully wash your hands after working in your garden (or wear gloves).
  • If the litter box were cleaned daily, any eggs present would still be in the non-infective stage.
  • Ideally, someone who’s healthy and not pregnant should clean the litter box and handle raw meat. If this isn’t possible, wear gloves while doing either activity, then wash your hands well with soap and warm water. Remember to wash any cutting boards, sinks, knives, and other utensils that might have touched raw meat or unwashed vegetables.
  • Cook all meat thoroughly, at least to 150 degrees (no longer pink in the center, or until the juices run clear). Don’t sample meat before it is fully cooked. Red meat that’s been smoked, cured, or frozen for at least 24 hours is also safe from this parasite. Chicken, other fowl, and eggs almost never contain this parasite, according to the CDC.
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