Toxoplasma gondii is a protozoan parasite affecting cats. Cats will shed oocysts (similar to eggs) in the stool. Most cats do not have any signs of illness, though some may have diarrhea. The oocysts in stool can infect people after 1-5 days, so daily removal of cat feces from the litter box can dramatically reduce the chances of getting infected. Once infected, there are several different manifestations of disease in people. In healthy adults, the disease is usually mild and most people never realize that they are infected. Symptoms in some cases can be very similar to having mononucleosis, with lethargy, fever, and enlarged lymph nodes. In children, senior citizens, immunocompromised individuals, and pregnant women there are greater risks for severe infection which can involve the brain, fetus, and eyes. In pregnant women, stillbirth is possible if infected during pregnancy. Diagnosis of the organism in cats is very challenging due to rare shedding of oocysts in the stool and long-term presence of antibodies in the blood. This makes it implausible to screen cats for toxoplasmosis in most cases.
In many animals, the organism exists as a cyst in muscle. While your own cat’s stool could be a possible source of infection, it is likely that most human infections occur from eating improperly cooked meat. Thorough cooking will kill cysts.
To prevent toxoplasmosis in your family:
1. Remove stool from the litter box daily.
2. All meat eaten by your family and your cat should be well-cooked.
3. Control pests that can transport toxoplasmosis through the home, such as cockroaches.
4. Wash hands after handling any cat, especially outdoor cats.
5. Disinfect the litter box routinely and use litter box liners.
6. Keep cats indoors (if letting cats outdoors, monitor them to prevent hunting).
7. Cover sandboxes when not in use.