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Pets and Your Health - Cats, Pregnant Women and Toxoplasmosis

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Ever heard someone say that pregnant women shouldn't change the kitty litter? Did you think is was an old wives tale? It's not.

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by the parasiteToxoplasma gondii. It affects almost all animals including humans. Toxoplasmosis is not dangerous to the normal healthy adult. Many people do not even know that they have the infection as they might only have mild flu-like symptoms or no symptoms at all. Toxoplasmosis is dangerous to the unborn child where the infection can affect the baby's eyes and brain. It is very uncommon and the records show only fifteen recorded babies affected per year. (compared with 800,000 births) in the United Kingdom

Toxoplasmosis is the reason women should avoid cat boxes (and rare or uncooked meat) during pregnancy. It is caused by a parasite.

Everyone can be affected by this however, it is usually not a problem for an adult to have toxoplasmosis. However in the immunosuppressed patient, or a newborn, you can have serious illness, prematurity, miscarriage or death occur.

Doctors used to tell pregnant women to get rid of their cat. However, this is not necessary. Many people who have owned cats, have already been exposed to toxoplasmosis. There are screenings available to see if you have been exposed and therefore have life long immunity.

Here's what you can do to prevent toxoplasmosis in pregnancy:

bulletNever empty cat litter trays-if you really cannot avoid doing so wear rubber gloves, and wash your hands afterwards. Disinfect cat litter trays daily for 5 minutes with boiling water. bulletAlways wear gloves for gardening and wash your hands after touching soil.  bulletNever eat raw or undercooked meat-be particularly careful of lamb and pork, but even hamburgers can contain the parasite. Always wash your hands after handling raw meat. Wash kitchen surfaces and utensils after contact with raw meat.bulletAlways wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly to ensure there is no soil contamination.

So, don't panic, and don't get rid of your pet. Remember you can always talk to your vet for more information as well as your health care practitioner. Very few babies, 15 out of 800,000 in the UK every year, ever have this disease, but it's nice to know that we can help prevent it.

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This page was updated on 23-Mar-2017