Toxoplasma Gondii

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Guidance for Personnel Working with Cats at Texas A&M University-Kingsville

What is toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a single-celled parasite named Toxoplasma gondii. More than 60 million people in the United States probably carry the Toxoplasma parasite, but very few have symptoms because the immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness. Toxoplasma gondii is primarily associated with cats; however, it has very low host specificity and it will probably infect almost any mammal.

How is toxoplasmosis spread?

Toxoplasmosis can be spread by hand to mouth contact after gardening, cleaning a cat’s litter box, or touching anything that has come into contact with cat feces. Cats can only spread Toxoplasma in their feces for a few weeks after they are first infected with the parasite. Toxoplasmosis can also be contracted by eating raw or partly cooked meat, especially pork, lamb, or venison, or by hand to mouth contact after touching the meat. Women who are pregnant when they first contract toxoplasmosis can pass the infection to their baby; however, women who contract toxoplasmosis more than 6 months before becoming pregnant are not likely to pass the infection to their baby.

Who is at risk for infection?

All personnel who work with Toxoplasma gondii are at risk. Babies born to mothers who are first exposed to Toxoplasma infection several months before or during pregnancy are at risk for severe disease. Persons with severely weakened immune systems are at greater risk for severe toxoplasmosis. In such cases, an infection that occurred anytime during life can reactivate and cause the severe symptoms of toxoplasmosis such as damage to the eye or brain.

Is toxoplasmosis infection serious?

For people without healthy immune systems, toxoplasmosis can be very serious; causing eye and lung infections and serious brain lesions that can lead to death. Toxoplasmosis is also a very severe infection for unborn babies, and can result in mental retardation, blindness, or death.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wear gloves when you garden or do anything outdoors that involves handing soil. Cats, which may pass the parasite in their feces, often use gardens and sandboxes as litter boxes.
  • Thoroughly wash hands well with soap and warm water after working with infected animals.
  • Wear personal protective equipment such as gloves, and lab coats when working with infected animals.
  • Wear gloves when cleaning litter boxes, and clean litter boxes daily (the parasite found in cat feces needs a few days after being passed to become infectious).
  • Wash hands well with soap and warm water afterward working with animals or cleaning their litter boxes.
  • If you are planning to become pregnant, you may consider being tested for Toxoplasma. If the test is positive, there is no need to worry about passing the infection to your baby. If the test is negative, take necessary precautions to avoid infection.

What are the signs of toxoplasmosis infection?

Healthy people who become infected with Toxoplasma gondii often do not have symptoms because their immune system keeps the parasite from causing illness. When illness does occur upon exposure, it is usually mild with flu-like symptoms (body aches, fever swollen lymph glands) that can last for several weeks.

What do I do if an exposure or injury occurs?

Exposure to aerosols, bites or scratches involving animals or injuries from objects contaminated with body fluids from animals require immediate first aid and medical attention. Notify your supervisor! Then, contact the University Police Department at 593-2611 or dial 911.

This page was last updated on: October 9, 2015