Toxoplasmosis and the pregnant human

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.

Researchers estimate that of the over 4 million births in the United States each year, between 400 and 4,000 babies are born with toxoplasmosis (known as congenital toxoplasmosis). This infection can be mild or severe, 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.

Your baby’s risk of becoming infected rises as your pregnancy progresses. If you get infected with toxoplasmosis in the first trimester, the risk that your baby will also be infected is about 15 percent. If you get infected in the second trimester, your baby’s risk is about 30 percent, and it’s 60 percent in the third trimester. However, while the transmission rate is higher in late pregnancy, toxoplasmosis is more likely to be severe for your baby if he becomes infected in the first trimester.

How can a pregnant woman get toxoplasmosis?

Experts estimate that about half -50%- of toxoplasmosis infections are caused by eating raw or undercooked infected meat, but you can also get the parasite by eating unwashed contaminated produce, drinking contaminated water, or handling contaminated soil, cat litter, or meat and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.

Do I have to get rid of my cat?

No. Why in the world physicians keep recommending this is just plain ignorant. You’ve probably heard that cat feces are a major source of toxoplasmosis, but that doesn’t mean you need to get rid of your beloved pet. You’ll want to take some extra precautions, though.

So while it’s possible to get infected with toxoplasma oocytes from direct contact with cat feces (such as handling the litter of a newly infected cat, as that is the way they will shed the organism - being newly infected themselves), you can also be exposed to oocytes elsewhere – while gardening, eating unwashed vegetables, or drinking contaminated water, for instance.

Here are some guidelines if you live with a cat:
Have other people empty the litter box, and have them do it daily. This reduces the risk of infection because the oocysts aren’t infectious for the first 24 hours after they’re excreted.

Remember that very important fact.

If you must do the job, wear disposable gloves and wash your hands well afterward. Some experts also suggest wearing a mask in case any particles become airborne when the litter is stirred up.

To keep your cat from becoming infected while you’re pregnant, feed him only commercial cat food or well-cooked table scraps – never raw or undercooked meat.

Keep him indoors so he won’t hunt down potentially infected prey like mice or birds. (Remember, though, that even an indoor cat might catch a mouse.)

Keep the kitty off the kitchen counter and dining table.

Though it’s unlikely your cat has any parasites in his fur, it’s a good idea to wash your hands after playing with him, especially before eating or otherwise putting your hands to your mouth.

Don’t get a new kitten or cat while you’re pregnant, and don’t play with stray cats or kittens.

What is the risk from eating meat? None if you cook the meat and wash your hands after handling the raw meat in preparation.

Although cats pass the parasite in their feces, other infected species harbor the parasite in their tissue forever, in so-called “tissue cysts.” Pork, lamb, and game meat (like venison) are major culprits, but any type of meat may be infected, so all meat should be handled and cooked appropriately.

Heat will kill the parasites, but if you eat raw or undercooked meat (or touch it and then touch your mouth, nose, or eyes), you can be infected by these tissue cysts.


Safe meat-preparation guidelines:

Freeze meat for several days before cooking. This will reduce – but not eliminate – the chance of infection.

Cook meat well. This is the only way to be certain you’ve eliminated toxoplasmosis. Use a food thermometer to test the internal temperature of meat. Most meat should be cooked to a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit, or 180 degrees F in the thigh for whole poultry. It’s best to use a thermometer, but if you’re doing without, cook the meat until it’s no longer pink in the middle and the juices run clear. Be sure not to sample meat you’re cooking before it’s done.

Avoid salt-cured or smoked meats such as Genoa salami, Parma ham, and prosciutto unless you first heat them until they’re steaming. (For example, they’re fine if cooked on a pizza.) If they’re not cooked, they’re risky because they might have been processed without thorough heating or with no heat at all. Also, don’t eat dried meats like jerky, which may have not gotten sufficiently hot during the drying process.

So, the cat is one of the least possible sources for toxoplasmosis exposure but get the biggest headlines. Over and over again I hear from pregnant new moms that their doctor told them to get rid of their cat. Very unfortunate. And never once were they explained about raw meat, gardening with out gloves or washing the vegetables.

Hopefully this might help that new soon to be mom out there understand this disease better.

Thank you for the above info.