Pregnant and own a Cat? Beware of Toxoplasmosis

by Deb Morrison / Pet Owner Advice / 24 Oct 2016

Pregnant and own a Cat?  You should be aware of Toxoplasmosis

What is Toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is an infection you can get from a microscopic parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. Although the infection generally causes a mild, symptomless illness in people with healthy immune systems, it's risky during pregnancy because the parasite may infect the placenta and your unborn baby causing stillbirth, long-term structural and neurological damage, and other devastating effects. The good news is there's a lot you can do to avoid becoming infected in the first place.

Symptoms of infection generally pass unremarked in adults, but can be dangerous to unborn children.  If you're healthy, you probably won't know you've contracted toxoplasmosis. However some people develop flu-like symptoms.  Women can become infected with Toxoplasma gondii parasites through contact with infected animal faeces (usually cat faeces), undercooked meat, or soil.

Can I "catch" toxoplasmosis from my cat?

The RSPCA says that owning a cat does not mean you will become automatically infected with the disease.  It is also unlikely that exposure to the parasite would occur by touching an infected cat, because cats usually do not carry the parasite on their fur. It is also unlikely that infection would occur through cat bites or scratches. In addition, cats kept indoors that do not hunt prey are not likely to be infected with T. gondii. 

What can I do to prevent toxoplasmosis?

The RSPCA advises that there are several general safety steps you can take to reduce your chances of becoming infected with Toxoplasma:

  1. Do not eat raw or undercooked meat. Cook food to safe temperatures (please see links below for more details).
  2. Do not drink unpasteurised milk or its products.
  3. Wash all fruit and vegetables carefully before eating.
  4. Wash hands before eating (including children)
  5. Wash hands and food preparation surfaces after handling raw meat.
  6. Wear gloves when gardening. Wash hands after gardening or touching soil/sand.
  7. Sandpits should be covered when not in use to stop cats defecating in the pit.
  8. Do not allow cats to hunt or roam. RSPCA Australia encourages the containment of cats in an enclosed area, at a minimum from dusk until dawn 
  9. Remove faeces from the litter box twice daily and safely disinfect with boiling water - the Toxoplasma parasite does not become infectious until 1 to 5 days after it is shed in a cat's faeces so by emptying twice daily the oocysts should be able to be disposed of before they are infectious (generally infectious from 24 hours). If you are pregnant or immune-compromised avoid changing cat litter if possible. If no one else can perform the task, wear disposable gloves and wash your hands with soap and warm water afterwards.

Please consult your doctor directly for more safety information. Your vet can also provide advice about Toxoplasmosis infection in animals.

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