Toxoplasmosis and Pregnancy: Don’t Touch That Litter Box!

Toxoplasmosis can lead to blindness and mental disability later in a baby's life. Image by  Ke Hu and John Murray

Toxoplasmosis can lead to blindness and mental disability later in a baby’s life. Image by Ke Hu and John Murray

A recent study shows that many pregnant women aren’t aware of the risks. What do you need to know about toxoplasmosis when you’re having a baby?

Are you Pregnant? Do you Have a Cat?

Guess what: It’s time to hand over your litter box cleaning duties to someone else.

You may have heard of pregnant women giving up the litter box duties before and it’s all because of a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that can cause toxoplasmosis in pregnant women.

According to the March of Dimes, nearly 60 million people in the United States have the parasite but don’t show any signs or symptoms because their immune system is healthy enough to keep the parasite from causing an infection.

However, when you are pregnant, your immune system is a bit weaker than normal and toxoplasmosis can become a big concern for you and your unborn baby.

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Toxoplasma gondii: Where Can You Get It?

Not only can you get this parasite from cleaning out the litter box, but you can also acquire the infection from eating raw or under cooked meats, or unwashed fruits and vegetables, as well as touching kitchen utensils and surfaces where food, especially raw meats were prepared, and even touching dirt or sand.

Cats are notorious for having this parasite, in fact the United States Food and Drug Administration states that nearly all cats that have spent any amount of time outdoors, have Toxoplasma gondii. Cats get this parasite from eating small animals or rodents that they kill, or from eating raw meat. Toxoplasma gondii passes through the cat’s feces; however, it doesn’t make the cat sick, so you won’t know if your cat has this parasite.

Avoiding Infections When You Have a Cat

You don’t have to give “Fluffy” away, but you do need to take precautions when tackling the litter box. The FDA recommends that you find someone else to clean out Fluffy’s litter box while you are pregnant. However, if you are the only one around, then wear disposable gloves while cleaning the litter box and then wash your hands with soap and water.

Someone in the home should clean the litter box daily, because the parasite that’s in the cat’s feces doesn’t become infectious until one to five days has passed. If there are outdoor cats that run the neighborhood, you should always wear gardening gloves when digging in the dirt or sand where cat feces maybe present. Then, thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water.

The FDA also recommends that you never give your cat raw meat as it can be a source of infection – and to avoid bringing in a new cat when you are pregnant.

Although many pregnant women naturally take precautions, according to Monique Pereboom, et al., more education on infectious diseases during pregnancy is always a good thing. As the study notes, “Advising pregnant women about behaviours and life-style habits to prevent infectious diseases remains important and information about preventive practices need to be complete and adequate.”

Click to Read Page Two: Avoiding Infections From Food

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