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8 February 2004 Issue

The HSUS Reaches Out To Nation's
OB-GYN's On The Myths & Facts About Toxoplasmosis

HSUS Seeks To Dispel Misinformation That Leads Many Pregnant Women To Give Up Their Cats

WASHINGTON (January 27, 2004) —Too often, cat owners who become pregnant give up their feline family members out of fear of contracting toxoplasmosis, a disease that can lead to serious birth defects in newborn babies. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is contacting more than 31,000 obstetricians and gynecologists nationwide with information to help them and their patients understand the facts about the risks of toxoplasmosis, with the message that pregnant women need not give up their cats.

“Misinformation about toxoplasmosis is widespread,” said Dr. Patrick Duff, residency program director of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Florida. Dr. Duff penned the cover letter that accompanies the new HSUS brochure, “Your Baby & Your Pet,” which will be mailed to members of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “It is important that physicians provide the correct information, which will help our patients remain healthy during pregnancy and their cats to remain members of their families,” he said.

Toxoplasmosis is a rare disease in the United States, with approximately 3,000 newborns per year suffering from birth defects after their mothers acquired the infection, according to a 1999 study referenced in “Toxoplasmosis: A Practical Guide for the Clinician,” written for The HSUS by Dr. Jeffrey D. Kravetz of the Yale University School of Medicine. The disease-causing parasite is found in the feces of cats who ingest raw meat, birds, mice or contaminated soil. Duff notes that it is extremely unlikely that a cat kept indoors will carry toxoplasmosis. Outdoor cats have a slightly higher risk.

“A pregnant woman should stay away from cleaning the cat’s litter box if possible,” Duff said. “If she must clean the litter box, careful instruction and proper hygiene will be the keys to prevention.”

What many people do not know, is that toxoplasmosis is more commonly found in uncooked or undercooked meat and that avoiding the disease is very simple:

• Don’t handle or eat uncooked or undercooked meat
• Keep your cat safely indoors and away from wildlife
• Have someone else clean the litter box daily
• Wear rubber gloves and follow with a thorough hand washing if you must clean the litter box. Scoop feces as soon as you can, and at least daily, since it takes one to five days for feces to become infectious.
• Feed cats only commercially prepared cat food

The HSUS is distributing its patient brochure “Your Baby & Your Pet,” and Dr. Kravetz’s guide for clinicians, to doctors as a part of its Pets for Life™ program, which provides information to help people resolve obstacles with pets to keep pets in the family for a lifetime.

The “Your Baby & Your Pet” brochure includes valuable information to help pet owners prepare pets for the new baby’s arrival and to help acclimate pets once the baby comes home. For more tips from the Pets for Life program, go to www.petsforlife.org.

“Bringing home your new baby need not mean the end of your relationship with your “first baby” – your pet,” said Nancy Peterson, companion animals issues specialist for The HSUS. “Healthy children and pets can live together safely and happily. Just ask any adult who shared his childhood with a beloved pet.”

For more information on toxoplasmosis, go to The HSUS Web site at
http://www.hsus.org/ace/19108.

For a copy of the “Your Baby & Your Pet,” contact Karen L. Allanach at kallanach@hsus.org or 301-548-7778. B-roll is also available for broadcast use.

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