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Do you have cats at home? Are you a susceptible pregnant or a concerned significant other?
Cats can be potentially dangerous to pregnant women. Yes, these cute little pets can possibly harm your unborn baby because they can transmit a parasitic infection called “Toxoplasmosis”.
So, should we get rid of our cats? No. Toxoplasmosis can be prevented without having to sacrifice our beloved pet. Expanding our knowledge about this condition and its transmission process would definitely help us in its prevention.
What Is Toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection caused by Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan. Data gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that approximately 11% of the US population (6 years old and above) has been infected with toxoplasmosis. This protozoan seem to survive better in humid and hot climate making the incidence rate higher in other parts of the globe, infecting around 95% of the population.
How Can We Acquire The Disease?
There are four major routes of transmission for the disease:
- Through contaminated food – eating undercooked and raw meat products that are contaminated by toxoplasma can get a person infected
- Rare instances of infection through organ transplant and accidental laboratory mishandling
- Congenital – the mother can transmit the disease to the unborn fetus through the bloodstream causing congenital abnormalities which could be fatal to the child
- Animal to human transmission – this is also where cats play a vital role
Talking about cats, they are the major culprits in the animal to human transmission of toxoplasmosis. This is the primary reason why under certain conditions, they can be dangerous to pregnant women.
- A cat gets infected by eating infected small animals like rats.
- Millions of toxoplasma oocysts will be shed through the cat’s feces.
- Any person who accidentally comes in contact and ingest the oocyst will become infected. This maybe in the form of a contaminated fruit/vegetable from the garden, infected drinking water or by accidentally ingesting the oocyst after touching the cat’s litter box.
- Pregnant women who are not immune (meaning they were not infected prior to pregnancy), may get sick and they may or may not show the symptoms of the disease. However, toxoplasma will reproduce inside their body and infect the fetus through the bloodstream. This will cause severe congenital abnormalities in the unborn child.
- Pregnant women who had the infection at least six months before the current pregnancy are considered immune and may not worry about getting the infection again. Immunity can also be passed down from the mother to the fetus, so the chance of the child getting the infection is slim.
I Have A Cat And I Am Pregnant. How Can I Prevent The Infection?
The good news is that toxoplasmosis is a highly preventable condition. Good hygiene practices along with proper sanitation and handling of the cat’s feces can lead to the effective prevention of the disease. Pregnant women need to be extra careful not to touch and ingest anything which may be contaminated by the cat’s fecal material.
Here are some tips to help you avoid getting the infection:
- Proper hand washing. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before meals and after handling items which are potentially contaminated by your cat’s feces. Examples are gardening tools and outdoor slippers.
- Be meticulous in washing fresh fruits and vegetables. It is also suggested to peel them prior to eating them.
- Prepare your food carefully. Cooking them in high temperature will prevent you from ingesting any oocyst that may be present in the food.
- Use soap and hot water in washing the kitchen tools that may have come in contact with raw meat.
- Use disposable gloves when gardening or if you can’t avoid touching the cat’s litter box.
- Have someone else do the cleaning of the cat’s litter box.
- Clean the litter box daily. The oocyst is known to be infectious from day 1 to 5.
- Keep your cat indoors to prevent it from eating infected rodents.
- Get some commercial cat feeds for your pet.
- Cover your outdoor sandboxes.
- Consult a doctor immediately when you suspect you have the infection. Treatments as well as a close monitoring of your baby are necessary.
- Do not get a new cat while pregnant or when planning to become pregnant. They may potentially harbor the parasite without you knowing it.
- Do not touch or get near stray cats or kittens.
- Do not feed your cat with undercooked or raw meats.
- Do not drink untreated water or water from an unknown supply.
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