Toxoplasmosis is seen in cats and is a microscopic parasite that can affect all mammals, including man, as well as birds, amphibians and other reptiles. Certain species appear to be more likely to transmit the disease (the pregnant sheep at the time of birth, is an example). Living in proximity with our domestic pets leaves us a little more exposed than a non-pet owner. The cat is the definitive host. Between 30% and 60% of humans have evidence of contact with Toxoplasmosis.
CAT FAECES ARE NOT INFECTIVE FOR 24 HOURS AFTER LEAVING THE CAT
It is very rare for Toxoplasmosis to have any adverse effect on healthy humans. There are two ‘at risk’ groups of people:
Mild cases of Toxoplasmosis show as ‘flu-like’ symptoms with swollen glands, temperature rise and general ill health lasting up to a couple of weeks.
As cats are fastidious cleaners, it is unusual for contact to be from another cat. More commonly it is from eating infected prey, raw meat fed by owners or contact with infected cat faeces in the garden or dirty litter trays.
This can be very difficult and often inaccurate. If your cat has a high blood antibody titre, then it will have been in contact and may be a carrier. Paired antibody blood tests a month apart with increasing antibody levels probably means the cat has the disease but may not be excreting the disease. Evidence of the disease in the faeces is diagnostic but rare to achieve. False negative results are common. It may be better to assume that disease may occur in your cat and take preventative measures to safeguard your family’s health.
If you are pregnant or an ’at risk category patient’, go and see your doctor and ask him or her about the risks concerned. A blood test may show evidence of contact with Toxoplasmosis in many cases, and this may mean that your immune system has produced antibodies to protect you. A very low antibody titre will mean minimal exposure and no protection, and you must take additional precautions against the disease.
Cats shed Toxoplasma cysts in their faeces when they first contact the disease, often when very young and on their first hunting expeditions. Shedding of cysts is unlikely except when the cat has ill health such as feline leukaemia, cat AIDS, severe diarrhoea or other debilitating illnesses. Do remember that it takes 24 hours for the Toxoplasma cysts to become infective after they leave the cat and so good hygiene will prevent human infection.
This advice relates particularly to pregnant ladies and other ‘at risk’ people. By all means blood test and faecal sample your cat. Do NOT rely totally on these results.