Toxoplasmosis is an infectious disease caused by a microscopic parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. Toxoplasmosis is actually a zoonosis (a disease transmitted from animals), the common hosts of the parasite being felines (cats) and birds. Man is an intermediate and accidental host.
The disease is often overlooked because it does not show alarming symptoms or there are certain nonspecific signs and symptoms that delay the diagnosis. The disease goes unnoticed in more than 85-90% of immunocompetent adults who have been infected with the parasite that causes the disease.
If the disease often goes unnoticed in healthy adults, it can be extremely serious and even fatal if it is transmitted transplacially to the embryo.
The younger the gestational age, the lower the risk of transplacental transmission of the parasite, but the disease is extremely serious.
The risk of contacting the parasite at an older gestational age exceeds 50%, but the manifestations of the disease in the fetus are much more benign (mild).
Children born to mothers with toxoplasmosis and who have contacted the disease before birth will develop congenital toxoplasmosis. a serious and sometimes even fatal condition. Also pregnant women with toxoplasmosis have a high risk of miscarriage.
However, the number of women who transmit the disease to the fetus is quite small. Contracting the parasite up to 3 months before conception is quite dangerous because it increases the risk of transmission to the fetus. Any woman who has been diagnosed with toxoplasmosis has to wait up to 6 months to become pregnant, while performing the proper treatment of the condition.
How is toxoplasmosis transmitted?
The main host of the parasite Toxoplasma gondii is the cat. However, the most common form of contamination is the consumption of infected and insufficiently cooked meat (lamb, pork, beef).
Another common way of contacting the virus is accidental ingestion or inhalation of Toxoplasma gondii cysts. An infected cat can contaminate feces, most of the household things in the environment. Poor hygiene can favor the transmission of the parasite to humans.
Toxoplasmosis is not transmitted from human to human (except for transplacental transmission from mother to fetus). The parasite can also be transmitted through infected blood transfusions or organ transplantation with infected tissues.
Toxoplasmosis in cats
Many women wonder if it is safe to keep a pet a cat especially if they want a baby. Future mothers should not give up the cat, instead take certain precautions to avoid contacting the parasite from it.
Feline is the natural host of the parasite, which breeds in its intestine. It becomes infected after ingestion of contaminated raw meat or in contact with the faeces of other infected cats. In turn, it eliminates the fecal parasite.
An infected cat can eliminate up to several million parasites daily (oocysts) for a period of 7-10 days. The confined parasite (oocyst) is not observed with the naked eye and becomes infectious after approximately 24 hours after excretion. If the parasite is not ingested by a new host, it can remain infectious for approximately 18 months if buried in the soil or sand.
During this period of latency, the parasite can contaminate water sources, fruits, vegetables, some animals and even humans.
Contact of the parasite occurs secondary to direct contamination with the feces of the infected or secondary cat, consumption of infected meat insufficiently prepared, unhygienic vegetables and fruits or ingestion of water from an infested source.
Another type of contamination is the inappropriate handling of the infested meat, because the parasite persists in the form of cysts in the muscle fibers or organs.
Prophylaxis of infection with toxoplasma gondi
Toxoplasmosis is often an asymptomatic disease, which can sometimes cause complications over time and is also very dangerous for a pregnant woman. For this reason, the following rules that prevent the infection with the parasite must be observed:
• the proper thermal preparation of the possibly infested meat.
Steaks in the blood (especially sheep, game, beef or lamb) should be avoided as much as possible, as these animals can sometimes be the intermediate host of the parasite. The meat should be prepared at a temperature higher than 160 degrees Fahrenheit (over 60 degrees Celsius) until it is no longer pink inside.
It is also advisable to taste the meat only after it is cooked enough, even a small piece of contaminated meat can promote the appearance of toxoplasmosis.
• avoiding the consumption of raw, smoked meat or raw meat preparations (smoked raw ham, Genoa salami, Parma ham, etc.).
They are not dangerous if they are thermally prepared for a few minutes, for example as much as it is necessary to prepare a pizza (10 minutes at a temperature of about 80-90 degrees Celsius).
• avoiding the consumption of unpasteurized milk
• avoiding the consumption of house eggs or eggs of wild birds
• the correct hygiene of the utensils used for the cutting, cutting and preparation of raw meat products (wood boards, cutlery, dishes). It is advisable to use detergents and rinse with plenty of water before using them again.
• the use of protective gloves when handling meat from an uncertain, non-certified veterinary source (hunting)
• combating vectors that can promote food contamination (flies, cockroaches)
• avoiding the consumption of contaminated water, such as spring water from the surroundings of an animal farm, forest or stately pond.
The use of possibly contaminating water for domestic use is also contraindicated if it is not previously boiled 10-15 minutes at a temperature above 100 degrees Celsius.
• the use of protective gloves when carrying out certain activities such as gardening (the parasite remains active in the ground for a period of about 2 years), the hygiene of the habitat of the pets or their regular hygiene, especially if they live outside.
• the proper care of the sandbox that the child uses at play, as it can be used for physiological needs of the cat or other animals.
It is recommended to cover the box with a tarp when not in use, and when there is suspicion of contamination it is recommended to change the sand.
• Pregnant women should not adopt a new cat during this period and should not play with other cats to avoid contact with the parasite
• pregnant women should not sanitize the litter box used by the cat for physiological needs.
It is good for someone in the family to do this daily, because the parasite becomes active 24 hours after it has been excreted. If the future mum needs to change the sand, she should properly protect herself and use gloves and a protective mask (mask is necessary, as some specialists argue that the parasite can also be inhaled orally when handling the sand. infested with oocysts).
• adopting special measures regarding the feeding and care of the cat to avoid contact with the parasite. Throughout the pregnancy, the cat should be isolated as much as possible (moving it to the yard also has a negative impact because it offers the possibility of contamination from the environment, by hunting infected birds).
This should not be eaten with raw meat, being recommended only special preparations for felines or home cooked food.
• restriction of cat access in the kitchen or other places where the family eats
• Although the parasite is rarely transmitted after handling the cat, washing the hands with soap after each touch is mandatory
• placement of the cat in other families (relatives, friends) throughout the pregnancy, if it cannot be properly supervised.