Toxoplasmosis in wildlife

So, I’m pregnant! Yay, and all. But my toxoplasmosis turned up negative, and I volunteer at a wildlife rescue.

(By the way, I’m looking for facts here, not shrieks of “ZOMG BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY YOU SHOULD SARAN WRAP YOURSELF”. I want information so I can use my best judgment. I also plan on asking my doctor about it, but they don’t even want to see me until January and frankly I doubt very much that she knows a ton about wild animals.)

So I’m planning on making my husband take care of the litter box, and I’ll wear gloves to garden, but I’m not sure what to do about my volunteer work. It’s important to me and I intend to keep doing it in some capacity - obviously I can prepare diets with no risk at all, for example, and some things I can wear gloves for (although gloves spook birds and I have a bad habit of touching my face). But I want to know exactly what the deal is.

We get birds (mostly songbirds; raptors go somewhere else but we do have a few as education animals and water birds get stabilized with us before transport), opossums, squirrels, flying squirrels, turtles (I know about salmonella), and a few oddball animals. Rabies vector species go to foster homes which have been vaccinated. My usual tasks are obviously, you know, cleaning cages, preparing bedding, feeding animals, preparing diets, etc. I don’t medicate anything, but I do work with sick and injured animals sometimes (and there’s a lot of catching birds.)

So obviously chopping food up is fine, and I assume feeding animals where there’s no risk of a bite or anything (squirrels get formula through their cages, for example) is probably fine. And I don’t want to get bitten by anything. But should I worry about birds, or is toxo only found in mammal feces? Are any of these species even anything to worry about at all (beyond normal precautions and handwashing) since we don’t deal with cats? What exactly is the risk here?

Toxoplasma gondii can infect some species of birds (penguins among them, which I don’t think you’d get), but in your situation they may be more likely to be found among the sick wild animals. I don’t think they infect reptiles, amphibians, and fish, so you could continue working with them, assuming you do know about the possibility of Salmonella infection (which you do).

The only definitive hosts, which would shed the cyst without being sick, would be felids. So definitely stay away from dealing with wild cats, including bobcats. Also, don’t deal with any sick animals if possible.

You could still prepare meals, as long as they’re vegetables. One common forgotten way to get toxoplasmosis is through contamination of raw meat (even more so than through cat feces). This also applies to your house, so make sure you also clean everything that touhes raw meat, and do not eat it.

Also, as usual, the Veterinary Partner offers some general information on how to prevent toxoplasmosis. This article was last reviewed 2 years ago, if I remember I can do a literature search tomorrow and see if new articles have shed something new.

We have on occasion gotten bobcats and bear cubs but not since I’ve been there. (All the meats I’ve dealt with have been cooked; they defrost mice and guinea pigs for the raptors but generally before I get there and I wouldn’t do it anyway because gross. We haven’t had shrikes in a while either; they also get mice.)

I’d assume you’d mention something this weird, but do you get armadillos? They can be carriers for leprosy, which might be another concern. Your immune system would probably protect the fetus, but it’s worth mentioning.

Ok! The ones who can shed the infective stages in the feces are felids, and usually only one in their lifetimes. Check your PM. The danger with handling meat (or carcasses/dead animals) is that they can carry the tissue cysts of Toxo, which can also be infective.

Of course, since you might well kill yourself, or die in a car accident, or become enamoured with the smell of cat urine, the risk to the fetus becomes even smaller.

Moderator Note

The OP posted this in General Questions and specifically asked for factual answers. While we do allow things to get a little loose once the OP has been addressed factually, this type of reply is not appropriate for the General Questions forum. It comes off more like threadshitting/being a jerk. You’ve been around long enough to know that this sort of thing isn’t appropriate for GQ.

No warning issued, but don’t do this again.

They are only now moving into South Carolina. I saw two dead ones on the road when we went down 95 a couple months ago, down past Hilton Head. Not here yet.

Yikes. I absolutely was not trying to be a jerk. It is really very interesting. This parasite is known to make mice so infected attracted to the smell of cat urine. In this way it modifies the behavior of the animal to have itself delivered to the definitive host. Studies in humans find that there is an increased risk of suicide, homicide, and death by car accident in those infected.

So I was way too cutely giving interesting information.

I apologize for posting such a poorly written response. Absolutely no offense was intended.

I knew what you were getting at and wasn’t offended. (Neither was Lil’ Tater, who the book says is the size of an orange seed now but I told my husband is the size of a tick.)

Tick is a much better description for what is probably a perfect parasite.

Also, stay away from Sea World. You don’t want to be near dolphins.