There are many myths surrounding cats and the harm they can cause when you are expecting a baby. These myths have unfortunately been responsible for the surrendering of many pet cats and prevented feline adoptions by young families.
We asked Dr Zhu to bring us the facts about Toxoplasmosis and how it affects you and your family.
What is Toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis (Toxo) is an infection caused by a parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii). T.gondii are the most common parasites infecting warm-blooded vertebrates such as birds and mammals. Only cats complete the life cycle of T.gondii through passing their environmentally resistant spores called oocysts in their faeces.
How do I get it?
Eating undercooked meats or ingesting sporulated oocysts through contact with cat faeces. Touching individual cats is probably not a common way to acquire toxo as cats generally shed oocysts only for days to several weeks after being infected. Increased risk of acquired toxo was not associated with cat ownership in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)–infected people or in veterinary health care providers.
How does this affect my baby?
Problems arise with the unborn foetus if a previously toxo-negative pregnant women becomes infected with toxo during gestation. The parasite can cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and neurologic diseases, and can affect the heart, liver, inner ears, and eyes (chorioretinitis). Infants infected via placental transmission may be born with damage to the brain, eyes or nasal malformations, although these complications are rare in newborns because most infants tend to develop symptoms later in life.
How do I prevent it?
If mothers-to-be are concerned that they may have toxo, they should see their doctor for testing. Avoiding sporulated oocysts and tissue cysts in undercooked meat can lessen the risk of acquiring toxo. Ensuring adequate hygiene is also crucial; wear gloves when picking up after your cats’ waste and always wash your hands before you eat. If possible, have a non-pregnant member of the family clean up the waste from the kitty litter or try to clean up kitty litter on a daily basis as oocysts take longer than a single day to become infective.
Should I get my cat tested?
Because humans are not commonly infected with T. gondii from contact with individual cats, testing healthy cats for toxo is not recommended. No laboratory test accurately predicts when a cat shed T. gondii oocysts in the past, and most cats that are shedding oocysts are negative on a blood test. Cats that are positive on their blood test have usually completed the oocyst shedding period and are unlikely to repeat shedding.
*A pregnant woman with no previous exposure should avoid handling raw meat, exposure to cat faeces, and gardening (cat faeces is common in garden soil)
*Wash vegetables thoroughly to remove all traces of soil
*Try to keep your cat indoors so that it can’t ingest infected wildlife
*Request non pregnant family member to clean litter trays daily
*Mothers-to-be who are concerned that they may have toxoplasmosis should see their doctor for testing