Animal Writes
23 May 2001 Issue

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Please Give to your Doctor & Pregnant Friends

Please give a copy of this to your doctor to better educate her/him about cats and pregnant women. Please also give this to any prospective parent who is considering surrendering their pet because they have been misinformed by their doctor of the alleged dangers of toxoplasmosis.

"Toxoplasmosis: Don't Let it Bug You"
source - The Spring, 2001 Newsletter of the Animal Welfare League
of Arlington, Virginia

A tearful young woman brings her beloved cat to the League for adoption. The cat is playful, affectionate, healthy and loving. Why is she giving him up? Because she is pregnant, and her doctor has ordered her to get rid of the cat.

The doctor's reason: Cats can carry "goxooplasma gondii," a parasite that can cause birth defects if the mother contracts the disease. Yes, there is a risk. What you may not know is that there's just as much of a risk if you are a gardener or are fond of steak tartar, because toxo can also be present in soil and raw or undercooked meat.

"The presence of Toxoplasma in human populations is common, but it is not something to lose sleep over," says Dr. James Richards, DVM, of the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. An estimated 33 percent of the U.S. population has already been exposed to toxoplasmosis without even knowing it. Experts believe that exposure comes much more often from eating undercooked meat than from living with a cat. In the majority of healthy people, toxoplasmosis causes nothing but immunity to future exposures.

Getting It
It is actually difficult to contract toxoplasmosis. For one thing, not all cats carry it. About 50 percent of cats nationwide are thought to have been exposed, mostly outdoor cats who catch and eat mice or rats. For another, the transmission of the organism is very tricky. Dr. Lizel Salmon of New Carollton Veterinary Hospital explains in a recent Sunday "Journal" article:

* The cat must be infected with the toxo organism by eating something infected with it, most commonly mice or infected raw or undercooked meat.

* The cat must be shedding the organism in its feces, which occurs during a 10-day period ONCE IN A CAT'S LIFETIME.

* The toxo organism must "incubate" in the cat's feces for one to five days before it is ineffective to humans. That incubation must occur after the feces leave the cat's body and have access to oxygen (i.e., in the litter box or in soil).

* The toxo organism must be swallowed by the person being infected.

In other words, when the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars. Yet the belief that a pregnant woman must give up her cat persists because many human doctors may not be aware of the exact method of transmission and how finicky the organism is.

Screening and Prevention
Both humans and cats can be screened for the presence of toxoplasmosis antibodies. A blood titer reveals if you or your cat has been exposed. Once a healthy human or feline has been exposed, he is immune to further infection.

Taking precautions against the transmission of toxo is simple:

* Pregnant women ideally should not clean the litter box. Someone else in the family should scoop the box. If this is not possible, wear disposable latex gloves and a surgical mask (available at a drugstore) while removing the feces or cleaning the box, and wash your hands well afterwards.

* Scoop the box daily. The toxo organism has to dry out to become infectious, so removing feces as soon as possible prevents this from happening.

* Keep your cat indoors so he can't hunt. Feed him high quality commercial cat food (i.e., without "byproducts"); never raw meat.

* Wear gloves while gardening.

* If your children have a sandbox, keep it covered so that neighborhood cats can't use it as a litter box.

* Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat, unpasteurized dairy products or raw, unwashed vegetables. Keep food preparation surfaces clean. Be wary of fast-food hamburgers; make sure they are thoroughly cooked.

So relax and enjoy the next nine months with your feline snuggled up next to you.

* Salmon, Dr. Lizel, DVM, "Parasite Causes Concern," The "Arlington Journal," Nov 19, 2000.
* "Toxoplasmosis: Rare Disease from Common 'Bug.'" "Cat Watch," Cornell Univ College of Veterinary Medicine, Oct 1998.
* "Cat-Carried Diseases," "Catnip," Tufts Univ School of Veterinary Medicine, Oct 1996.

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