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Toxoplasmosis The Toxic Parasite That Could Be Lurking In Your Food



If you're a cat lover or friends with anyone who loves cats, you need to take a few moments to read this article. In the latest installment of our series on foodborne illness, we're going to take a look at toxoplasmosis, a troublesome foodborne disease.


What Is Toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is the name given to a disease caused by a tiny parasitic organism named Toxoplasma gondii. Most lay people mistake T. gondii for bacteria, but in fact they're microscopic one celled animals known as protozoans. People who become sick from toxoplasmosis usually catch the disease after coming into contact with food, soil, blood or feces that has been contaminated by these single-celled organisms.


Who Is Most Likely To Be Stricken With Toxoplasmosis?

Government health statistics, an estimated 60 million men, women and children maybe infected with Toxoplasma gondii, but interestingly, very few healthy people will show any symptoms of the disease. This is because their immune system keeps the parasites at bay. But pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems may not be so fortunate. In fact, the disease was responsible for 4,428 hospitalizations in 2011.


What Are The Symptoms Of Toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis isn't usually harmful to healthy people, but persons with weakened immune systems are greater risk for the disease which has a variety of symptoms including:

  • swollen lymph glands
  • muscle aches and pains that can last for up to one month
  • damage to brain, eyes and other organs in people who suffer recurrence of an earlier bout with the pathogen


How Can Toxoplasmosis Be Prevented?

Toxoplasmosis is spread by handling cat litter, feces and other substances contaminated with T. gondii. Good hygiene ranks among the most effective methods for minimizing the spread of the disease. When handling food it's important to follow these food safety tips:

  • Use a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature of cooked meat products
  • Cook whole cuts of meat at a minimum of 145 degrees Fahrenheit
  • After removing the cooked meat from its heat source, let it "rest" for three minutes before carving or serving it in order to kill the pathogens
  • Cook ground meats at a minimum of 160 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Cook poultry products to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit, allowing the cooked products to "rest" for three minutes prior to carving or serving
  • store meat at sub zero temperatures for several days prior to cooking in order to lower the chances of infection
  • Thoroughly wash your hands, cutting boards, utensils, dishes, and counters with hot soapy water after coming into contact with raw meats, poultry, unwashed fruit and seafood
  • Wear protective gloves when coming into contact with sand or gardening soil because there's a possibility that it might be contaminated with the pathogen

To lower the chances of infection via cats, pregant women and others with weakened immune systems are also advised to do the following:

  • Avoid changing cat litter if at all possible. If you must change the litter, wear disposable gloves and wash your hands with warm soapy water after you've finished the chore.
  • Don't adopt stray cats or kittens.
  • Postpone getting a cat while you're pregnant
  • Keep cats indoors
  • Feed cats canned foods, dried commercial foods or fully cooked table foods
  •  Don't feed cats raw or undercooked foods
  • Cover outdoor sandboxes


Toxoplasmosis is listed as a neglected parasitic infection because people rarely pay attention to this particular disease. But applied knowledge puts you ahead of the game and lowers your risk of falling ill to the disease.


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Article Sources

CDC - Parasites - Neglected Parasitic Infections in the United States. http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/npi.html

CDC - Toxoplasmosis. http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/

CDC - 2011 Estimates of Foodborne Illness. http://www.cdc.gov/foodborneburden/2011-foodborne-estimates.html

CDC - Toxoplasmosis - General Information - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/gen_info/faqs.html

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


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