There are many misconceptions and myths surrounding toxoplasmosis and the potential threats it poses to pregnant or immuno-comprised individuals. To begin, toxoplasma gondii is an intestinal parasite that is most often associated with cats. The parasite causes the disease toxoplasmosis, which is a potential health concern for pregnant women. This parasite is estimated to infect as much as one third of the world’s human population, but very rarely do those infected get sick.
However, the parasite can be dangerous in rare cases. Individuals with weakened immune systems, such as AIDS patients, can sometimes become seriously ill as a result of infection. Similarly, pregnant women can pass on the parasite to their unborn child. For this reason, many doctors are quick to tell pregnant women to get rid of their cats. However, it is important to note that there is less risk of acquiring toxoplasmosis from cats than from eating raw vegetables and undercooked meat. Additionally, owning a cat does not increase the risk of contracting toxoplasmosis.
Still, pregnant women can take certain precautions when in contact with cats. If pregnant, one should avoid cleaning litter boxes if possible, as infected cats could pass the parasite in their feces. If a pregnant woman has no alternative but to clean the litter box herself, she should wear disposable gloves and wash her hands thoroughly afterwards. Furthermore, it is important to scoop the litter box frequently, ideally daily, to decrease the chance of infection as the oocysts in cat feces takes one to three days to become infectious.
Pregnant women should also keep their cat indoors, so that the cat is not exposed to other animals who may be infected. Additionally, all newly adopted cats should be tested for the disease. Pregnant women can also be screened for toxoplasmosis. The only risk occurs when the parasite infects a woman during pregnancy; if she was exposed to toxoplasmosis before pregnancy, there is no risk to her child since she will have developed antibodies. If a woman is pregnant when she contracts toxoplasmosis, medication is available for effective management and treatment.
ACR does not want to make light of the fact that if a pregnant woman does contract toxoplasmosis it can be dangerous for her unborn baby. However, individuals who are uninformed and those who do not like cats exaggerate this particular hazard. Many doctors are unaware that the risk of toxoplasmosis transmitted via infected cats to pregnant women is very low, and acquiring it through exposure from cat feces is far less likely than from raw and undercooked meat. Thousands of women with cats go on to give birth to happy, healthy babies, and being pregnant is not a reason to give up your cat. By simply following basic safety precautions, you can protect yourself and your baby from acquiring toxoplasmosis without having to give up your cat.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Toxoplasmosis.” CDC.gov. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 July 2014.
Montoya, J. G., and O. Liesenfeld. “Toxoplasmosis.” Lancet 363.9425 (2004): 1965–76. NCBI PubMed. Web. 29 Sept. 2014.
Vittecoq, Marion et al. “Cat Ownership Is Neither a Strong Predictor of Toxoplamsa Gondii Infection nor a Risk Factor for Brain Cancer.” Biology Letters (2012): rsbl20120625. Rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org. Web. 17 July 2014.
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