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Toxoplasmosis in the home

What is toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is an infection transmitted by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii whose primary host is cats.  Cats may contract the parasite by consuming raw meat and bones, drinking un-pasteurised milk, or eating insects.   
How do people contract it?

It can be caught by eating anything that has come in contact with the parasite, such as eating raw/undercooked meat, or unwashed fruit and vegetables that may have come in contact with cat faeces.  This may occur if you grow your own vegetables and have cats frequenting your garden, or if you fail to wash your hands after cleaning your cat’s litter tray. The parasite is also transmitted from mother to foetus, if the mother is exposed to it for the first time during pregnancy. There is also a risk of exposure when handling new born lambs.   
What are the risks if you are exposed to the parasite?

The greatest risk is to pregnant women. Exposure to toxoplasmosis for the first time during pregnancy can pose serious risk to the health of the unborn foetus, as it does not yet have a functional immune system of its own. If the woman has been exposed prior to becoming pregnant then she is likely to have developed immunity to the parasite, and the safety of the unborn foetus is largely ensured. Immune status can be assessed through blood testing (although this is not routinely done in most countries for reasons of cost-effectiveness and due to the possibility of the test indicating a false positive result), and it is recommended that this be discussed with a doctor at the first pre-natal appointment.
Anyone with a compromised immune system should also take particular care. Examples of people with immune system compromise include (but are not limited to) people that are HIV positive, currently on or have recently undergone chemotherapy, or on anti-rejection medication following an organ transplant. Such people are at risk of more serious illness, should they become infected.
In otherwise healthy people infection generally causes a mild flu-like illness during the initial stages of the infection. In later stages there are rarely any symptoms in a healthy adult.
Reducing the risks
There are several measures you can take to avoid exposure to the parasite:

-         Wash all fruit and vegetables.
-         Wear gloves when gardening and wash hands afterwards.
-         Do not eat under cooked of raw meat, handle raw meat with gloves, and wash hands afterwards.
-         Do not drink unpasteurised milk.
-         Do not handle new born lambs or give help during lambing season.
-         If your cat uses a litter tray, ask someone else to empty or wear gloves when doing it yourself.
-         Wash your hands after handling the cat.
-         Do not let the cat sleep on your bed or walk over work surfaces.
If you are pregnant

-         Avoid all handling of raw meat where possible
-         Avoid all contact with cat faeces – you are off litter tray duty until after your child is born!
-         Make sure the litter tray is cleaned out DAILY – the parasite takes longer than 24 hours after the faeces are passed to become infective to people
-         Wash your hands after handling cats
-         Avoid gardening altogether
It’s important to note that whilst the risk of infection can be minimised it cannot be completely eliminated by following these recommendations.