“You need to evict your cat because you are pregnant.” This is a long-held belief pregnant women with pets are compelled to take into serious consideration. However, this myth is not purely bounded by irrational and unfounded fear. A mother contracting toxoplasmosis from her pet, specifically from a cat, and passing it on to her unborn child is one of the major factors backing up this myth.
What is toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. It is one of the most prevalent parasites on earth. In the UK, there is 23 to 33 per cent of people who are infected with Toxoplasmosis.
On its early life cycle, Toxoplasma gondii parasite has the potential to invade the entire organs in the body. However, liver, muscles, heart, spleen, and the central nervous system are the main organs that they are more inclined to infect. It is on this stage where toxoplasmosis is caused. Toxoplasma gondii parasites may remain within its host’s body, which can be both humans and animals, for a relatively long time. There is even a threat that it can thrive within the infected human or animal’s body for a lifetime.
Usually, most of the people and animals infected with toxoplasmosis show little to no symptoms at all. The only concrete evidence of infection is through the detection of antibodies in the blood against the Toxoplasma gondii parasite.
If symptoms do occur, they involve:
- Swollen lymph glands, most especially the neck
- Muscle aches and pains
- Sore throat
Risks pregnant women and their unborn child face against toxoplasmosis
Miscarriage and congenital infection are two of the most fatal risks that pregnant women face when infected with toxoplasmosis. Women who contracted toxoplasmosis are at risk of abortion or miscarriage, more specifically:
- Preterm birth – Birth before thirty-seven weeks of pregnancy
- Stillbirth – The death a baby in the womb before birth but after twenty weeks of pregnancy
According to American Pregnancy, this parasitic disease can cause extremely dangerous results for the infected pregnant woman and the foetus. If a woman gets infected with toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, she has 3 to 10 per cent possibility of passing it to the baby.
The earlier they contract this parasite in their pregnancy, the higher the possibility that the baby might have defects after birth. There is a 5 to 6 per cent chance of complication if the mother is infected between ten and twenty-four weeks of her pregnancy. It can lead to brain damage, blindness on the child, and other complications such as:
- Skin rashes
- Nervous system damage
- Mental retardation
- Eye problems
Primary causes of toxoplasmosis
Toxoplasmosis is usually caused by:
- Eating either raw or undercooked meat, most especially pork or lamb meat
- Drinking toxoplasmosis-contaminated water
- Accidentally coming into contact with soil where the Toxoplasma gondii parasite thrives
- Knives not properly cleaned after being used cuttingon raw meats
- Drinking unpasteurised goat’s milk
Cats and dogs are not the main causes
The previously-told myth might hold a small truth about the furry companions being the likely carriers of the disease. This belief has halted women from getting a new dog whilst pregnant or stroking their cat’s fur. It is true that cats are primarily the main hosts of the Toxoplasma gondii parasites. The causes of their infection can be through ingesting infected birds, rodents, and other small animals, or coming into contact with another cat’s faeces that contains the microscopic parasite. On the other hand, dogs could become carriers of the disease by eating the cat’s faeces or when they come into contact with soil contaminated by Toxoplasma gondii parasite.
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However, there are some parts of the myth that are taken too much out of context. Cats are potentially the main carriers of Toxoplasma gondii, but it does not mean that they will all get infected by toxoplasmosis. As long as the cats are securely kept indoors, not fed with raw food, and do not come in contact with infected hosts, then they are not prone to infection.
Contracting toxoplasmosis through stroking your pet’s fur is another unfounded belie which is entirely false. Cats do not carry the Toxoplasma gondii parasite on their coat. “The possibility of transmission to human beings touching or caring for indoor cats is minimal to nonexistent, because an indoor cat on a commercial diet does not become infected with toxoplasmosis,” microbiologist J.P. Dubey, a toxoplasmosis expert, pointed out.
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Preventive measures for pregnant pet owners
As cliché and overused as it sounds, prevention is always better than cure. In order to keep pets from contracting toxoplasmosis, pets should be fed with a commercially prepared cat or dog food. For home-cooked food, you must make sure that the food is thoroughly cooked.
Additionally, cats or dogs should keep their paws off the kitchen table, counter, or any surfaces where food is placed. There is a possibility that their paws may have come into contact with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite and transfer it on the table.
When it comes to dealing with cat litter, the best course of action is to have someone else scoop up the faeces or clean up the dog’s pop. It must be done daily so that the pregnant woman will have less chance to be infected by the parasite. On the other hand, if there’s no other option and the pregnant woman must do it herself, she must wear gloves and wear a mask. After cleaning, she must thoroughly clean her hands.