Cat feces and pregnancy
|Photo by Maproom Systems|
Cat feces and pregnancy go together in a negative way because of the disease, toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is caused by a parasite called toxoplasma gondi. Astonishingly up to 20% of American people are affected by this parasite (source: http://www.metrokc.gov/). Cornell University says that the parasite is found in nearly all warm blooded animals (humans are warm blooded animals).
So it is very common. However, in 80% of the cases of people affected there are no symptoms and the person is unaware he/she is infected as the body's immune system deals with the parasite to neutralize it. It is in the body but not doing anything. The same applies to cats, there will be no symptoms.
For people with suppressed immune systems for whatever cause (e.g. chemotherapy or due to another illness such as AIDS) then symptoms can be present, which can include:- fever, sore throat, aching muscles, swollen glands (lymph glands), headaches, confusion, blurred vision, chest pains, trouble breathing and coughing up blood.
So how do cat feces come into this situation? A cat can be infected as well as humans. A domestic cat can become infected if he/she eats the raw meat of another animal or drinks the milk of an infected mother cat. So, for cat keepers their cat might become infected if she/he is an outdoor cat and likes hunting. You'll see clear signs of that in your cat's activity. A lot of cats in the USA are exclusively indoor cats which would mean little or no chance of being infected it seems to me.
In the UK cats are more indoors/outdoors so more chance of infection. If your cat is infected the parasite can be passed to his/her feces and thence to the cat litter is she uses it or to the garden potentially if she goes to the toilet in the garden (on soil in the flower beds). The parasite can live for a long time (about one year) in cat's feces. The chance of being infected by your cat is small (source: Cornell University)
If you're pregnant and you get infected the parasite can harm your baby causing possible: miscarriage, poor growth, early delivery, still birth and if born with the disease can suffer nasty conditions such as water on the brain, eye conditions and convulsions. So it is serious, very serious.
So there is the connection between Cat feces and pregnancy. However, the most common cause of infection in humans of toxoplasmosis is through eating raw meat and not from contact with cat feces.
What to do if you have a domestic cat and you are going to get pregnant or are pregnant. As I understand it some doctors advise to get rid of your cat. This sounds impossibly harsh but understandable as the damage that can be caused is potentially severe. It is all about risk it seems to me.
I would have thought a sensible procedure could be set up to deal with cat feces. I would also have thought that all women with husbands or partners could insist upon the partner doing the cat litter and the gardening (lean on the man a bit). If you are a single woman you may have other children who could be taught to deal with the cat litter. In other words you don't go near cat litter (this also means not breathing in cat litter dust - you might move the cat litter box to a safer place). That to me is the safest method.
But more importantly, it would be wise to deal with the more important and common sources of infection such as raw meat - simple answer, don't eat raw meat or unpasteurized milk and don't touch raw meat and if you do wash hands afterwards and the utensils (this is in fact simple good cooking practice anyway). Cat feces and pregnancy need not be a bad combination but no doubt the situation needs to be taken very seriously for the baby's sake.
One last point: lets not blame cats. I guess they could in theory catch it from us or by our actions (e.g eating raw meat left out in the kitchen - wrong? please tell me in a comment). Perhaps they do....?
Update March 2011: Here is a further page on the subject: Toxoplasmosis and Its Prevention in Cats and People.
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