A fear that crosses every pregnant woman’s mind who has close contact with cats is toxoplasmosis. Over the years this has had many pregnant women avoid their own cats for months out of fear. While this parasite is easily transferred from cat to cat to human, it is far less likely that you will catch this nasty bug from your feline friend.
What Is Toxoplasmosis?
In the United States alone, an estimated 60 million people have the toxoplasmosis parasite living in them. What exactly is toxoplasmosis? Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by the parasite “Toxoplasma Gondii”. The disease this parasite causes can cause severe illness in infants (while in the womb) from mothers who recently picked it up and to people who have weakened immune systems.
How Do Cats Become Infected?
Cats get toxoplasmosis by eating infected birds, rodents, or grass. Anything contaminated with the feces of a cat who recently shed the parasite is a risk. Once a cat is infected, it can shed the parasite for up to two weeks. In one to five days after leaving the cat through feces, the parasite becomes infective. The parasite is able to live several months in contaminated soil, vegetation, water, grass, sandboxes, litter boxes and anywhere feline feces from an infected cat is.
What Are the Symptoms?
Symptoms of toxoplasmosis include flu-like symptoms, swollen lymph nodes, and muscle pain or aches that last several weeks to months. Eye diseases can occur but they are very rare. As for people with weakened immune systems, they may develop severe migraines, confusion, fever, seizures, nausea and vomiting, and poor coordination. Infants will not show any symptoms at birth but many are likely to suffer from vision loss, seizures, and mental disabilities later in life.
Cats are NOT the main reason humans become infected!
It is important to understand that it is a lot easier for a human to catch this parasite through food than a cat. Food sources include contaminated water, certain fruits or vegetables, and raw or undercooked meat (commonly found in pig, lamb and, wild game).
How Can Toxoplasmosis Be Prevented?
To prevent infection from this parasite, follow the following steps :
- Clean out the litter box DAILY – The parasite takes a full 24 hours before it becomes infectious. If you are pregnant, avoid cleaning out the litter box or being near it. If this is not possible, use throw-away gloves and wash your hands afterward.
- Keep any unused sandboxes covered to avoid strays from defecating in it. Avoid public playground sandboxes as well.
- Use caution when adopting stray kittens, avoid this completely if you are pregnant or have an autoimmune disease.
- Never eat uncooked meat!
- Wash all kitchen tools and areas where raw meat has touched.
You DO NOT have to get rid of your cat! It is very rare an indoor cat to become infected with the parasite. Either keep your cats indoors or supervise them while outdoors. Toxoplasmosis is 100% treatable, in fact in healthy adults, the parasite passes through and all symptoms subside within 6 months. For pregnant mothers who have become infected, there is medication to protect the baby from the parasite. Both the mother and baby should be monitored before and after birth until the parasite is gone.