When the pregnant cat owner reads this term for the first time in a book written for expectant moms, she experiences a sharp pain in the lower right quadrant of her abdomen. Her emotions of fear only intensified as she continued to read: “A pregnant woman may get it from a cat… She can pass it on to her growing kid… It can cause birth abnormalities.” According to gynecologists and veterinarians, there is a cause for worry; nonetheless, there is no need to panic at this time.
According to Dr. Michael Davidson, an associate professor of companion animal and special species medicine at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, “Doctors used to recommend that the lady should get rid of the cat, but that’s entirely unnecessary.” Toxoplasmosis may only be transmitted from a cat to a woman if there is direct contact with the cat’s excrement; however, this is something that most people attempt to avoid doing anyhow. During pregnancy, the only thing that is required to avoid being exposed to this parasite is to take a few elementary measures.
Toxoplasmosis is transmitted to around 80 percent of domestic cats during the course of their lifetimes, often as a consequence of eating an infected rodent, such as a mouse, mole, or squirrel, or another kind of infected prey. Some of the cats exhibit no signs at all, while others develop diarrhea or become lethargic. Pneumonia and ocular irritation might crop up every once in a while. Cats who are kept inside and live in houses that are rodent-free may never be exposed.
According to Dr. Davidson, up to sixty percent of human beings may also get infected, often after coming into contact with cat excrement in a garden or litter box. There is a good chance that the vast majority of cat owners who have spent a significant amount of time with felines have already been infected with toxoplasmosis. People, much like cats, often exhibit no symptoms or give the impression of having a minor case of the “flu.” Even if a person does not exhibit any symptoms, they may still create an antibody, which contributes to the development of immunity.
According to Dr. John Botti, head of maternal-fetal medicine at the Penn State University College of Medicine, “you are fairly well protected” if you have been exposed to toxoplasmosis and have created an antibody against the disease. However, if a woman contracts the parasite for the first time while she is pregnant, the consequences that it will have on both the mother and the unborn child will be contingent on how far along in her pregnancy she is when she contracts it. It is quite rare that a mother would transmit the parasite to her growing baby during the first three months of pregnancy. Toxoplasmosis may be passed on to the fetus at any point during pregnancy; however, the risk that the infant would later experience serious health complications is highest at this period. On the other hand, a woman who is in her third trimester of pregnancy has the highest risk of transmitting toxoplasmosis to her unborn child, even though the parasite is less likely to cause major birth abnormalities at this point in the pregnancy.
According to the statistics, just 1,200 out of each year’s total of 4 million newborns born in the United States have any symptoms associated with toxoplasmosis. The majority of these infants are just suffering from very minor conditions, such as a rash or an eye infection. Nevertheless, the parasite has the potential to cause severe harm to a developing fetus. In very unusual circumstances, infants have been found to have experienced mental impairment, anemia, and hydrocephalus (a disorder in which the brain expands).
In order to reduce or eliminate the possibility of contracting toxoplasmosis, pregnant cat owners should either delegate the responsibility of cleaning the litter box to another person or simply wear gloves while doing so and wash their hands properly afterward. This also applies to gardening, and it is particularly important to keep this in mind if there are outside cats that visit the area. “Just use common sense,” Dr. Davidson recommends. Because it takes at least 24 hours for the organism to become contagious to people after it has been shed from its host, he advises that the litter box be replaced every day as an additional measure of precaution. It is interesting to note that cats are only able to excrete the organism in their feces once in their entire lifetimes and that only happens right after they have been exposed to it for the very first time. In addition, according to Dr. Davidson, “it is quite rare that they will lose it throughout a woman’s pregnancy.”
If a person has ever been exposed to toxoplasmosis, this may be determined with a simple blood test. Because it is not possible to determine the exact time of exposure, it is recommended that a woman be tested prior to attempting to conceive a child. If she has been exposed, she will know without a doubt that it occurred before she became pregnant.
Toxoplasmosis is a dangerous condition that should not be taken lightly; yet, pregnant women have no need to get rid of their cats or even avoid them. There can be times throughout a woman’s pregnancy when she will have feelings of apprehension over the future, tension regarding her weight increase, or anxiety regarding the imminent birth. It’s possible that curling up on the couch with a feline companion is the most effective treatment there is, not to mention that it’s absolutely risk-free.