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: 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
"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.
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
* The cat must be infected with the toxo organism by
eating something infected with it, most commonly mice or infected raw or
* 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
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
Taking precautions against the transmission of toxo is
* 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
* 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
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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