So, you’ve decided to have a baby, and have told the family and friends the good news. More than likely, their first response was “When are you getting rid of your cats?” and when you asked why, the told you all about this nasty disease that cats will give you that will harm your baby. Now you’re scared, you love your cats, and you don’t know what to do.
Relax. You don’t have to get rid of your cats, AND you can have a normal, healthy baby. While family and friends are most likely well-meaning, they are also misinformed.
What is Toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a single celled parasite named Toxoplasma gondii. Cats become infected with toxoplasmosis by eating raw meat from an animal that has been infected, such as mice and other small mammals. Once the cat is infected, it will shed oocysts in its feces for approximately 14 days after becoming infected. It takes 24 hours from the time the oocysts are passed in the feces for them to become developed and capable of infecting a human. Indoor only cats that are fed commercial cat foods are unlikely to become infected. If you feed your cat a raw diet, or allow your cat time outdoors, simply follow the precautions listed below.
How is Toxoplasmosis Passed to Humans?
Toxoplasmosis is passed to humans by eating undercooked meat, unwashed (or improperly washed) vegetables, and by accidental oral contact with feces from an infected cat.
Is Toxoplasmosis Dangerous to a Pregnant Woman?
Toxoplasmosis can be dangerous to the fetus if the pregnant woman is infected for the very first time while she is already pregnant. If that occurs, toxoplasmosis is most dangerous but hardest to pass to the baby during the first trimester, and least dangerous, but easiest to pass to the baby during the last trimester.
If you’ve been infected prior to your pregnancy, your immune system will prevent any further contact from being dangerous. If you are not yet pregnant, and don’t know if you’ve been infected, there is a simple blood test that your doctor can do to tell you if you’ve already been infected. If you have, then you will not have to worry about toxoplasmosis being dangerous to your unborn child once you become pregnant. If you haven’t been infected, or if you are already pregnant and don’t know if you’ve been infected previously, then there are some simple precautions that can be taken to prevent becoming infected during your pregnancy.
Simple Precautions To Take While Pregnant:
- Wear gloves when you garden or do anything outdoors that involves handling soil. Wash your hands well with soap and warm water after outdoor activities, especially before eating or preparing food.
- Have someone who is not pregnant handle raw meat for you. If this is not possible, wear clean latex gloves when you touch raw meat, and wash any cutting boards, sinks, knives, and other things that might have touched the raw meat. Wash your hands well with soap and warm water afterwards.
- Cook all meat thoroughly, until no longer pink in the center, or until the juices run clear. Do not eat meat that is not fully cooked, such as medium-well to rare steaks.
- Have someone who is not pregnant, such as your husband/significant other change your cat’s litter boxes. If this is not possible, wear gloves and change the litter frequently. Remember that the oocysts (the parasite in cat feces) takes 24 hours to develop, and can only effect you after that point, so cleaning litterboxes twice a day will remove the oocysts before they become a threat.
A Little Less Stress
So when friends and family tell you about this mysterious disease you can get from cats, you can smile serenely (while stroking said cat in just his favorite spot) and explain that you’ve learned all about it and have taken all of the necessary precautions. Take time to enjoy the added benefit of lowering your blood pressure and stress levels that stroking kitty provides because friends and family will probably move on to telling you ALL about their labor stories……..
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