Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Toxoplasmosis

Mr Bumpy.
For people with chronic illnesses, who find we spend a great deal of time at home alone, companion animals are great company.

I have a dog at the moment, but I also have a cat. Most of my life, in fact I've had cats. Cats are great, they're very independent. They don't need to be walked, and only in exceptional circumstances need to be bathed.  You can care for a cat, even when you are unable to do much at all.

There is, however, one risk with cats.

I first heard of toxoplasmosis when I was pregnant with my first child.  Toxoplasmosis is a parasite that people can become infected with by eating undercooked meat, or handling cat faeces. The book I read when I was pregnant said it was harmless to adults, but pregnant women should avoid it because it could cause damage to a developing foetus. I explained that to my then husband and asked him to take over changing the cat litter trays while I was pregnant. He told me I wasn't to use the pregnancy as an excuse for being lazy - so I bought rubber gloves.

Now, I discover, toxoplasmosis can in fact harm adults as well, if those adults have compromised immune systems.  It can be fatal, in fact.

When we think of compromised immune systems, it's natural to think of HIV/AIDS, but those of us with autoimmune conditions like lupus do not have normally functioning immune systems either. Not only are our immune systems haywire, but many of the drugs we take to control our conditions are aimed specifically at weakening the immune system.

So we're at risk from toxoplasmosis as well.

There's things we can do to avoid contracting it.

In the kitchen, we need to take our food safety seriously, and make sure meat is cooked properly, and everything that contacts raw meat is washed up very well. (Especially, be aware of going to barbecues, etc, where someone will take raw meat off a plate to cook, and then put it straight back on the same plate.)

With our pets, we need to be aware of hygiene, and wear gloves to clean litter trays.  Used cat litter should be bagged and put in the bin (not added to the garden or compost.)

If we're gardening, we need to wear gloves, not have our hands in contact with the soil. (Even if we don't have pets - neighbours cats can visit a garden without being noticed.)

And of course, regular hand washing is very, very, important. Always wash hands before eating, after handling pets, and all those other times your mother told you to wash your hands.


References:


MedicineNet.com http://www.medicinenet.com/toxoplasmosis/article.htm

Queensland Health http://access.health.qld.gov.au/hid/InfectionsandParasites/Parasites/toxoplasmosis_fs.asp

Wikipaedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxoplasmosis

1 comment:

  1. It looks like Mr. Bumpy is an indoor-outdoor cat, but I think it's important for people to know that if your cat is an entirely indoor cat, and your home is free of mice/rats, there's almost no risk of toxoplasmosis after about the first 6 weeks following adoption (they have to have access to soil and/or infected rodents to catch the disease). Some pregnant women and immune-compromised individuals get rid of their cats, assuming that it's an ongoing risk, when it isn't. :( Researchers suspect that most cases are actually due to handling/eating contaminated meat.

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