You’re pregnant. You’re tired. You’re growing another human being inside your womb. As if you need another excuse to not have to clean the litter box during pregnancy. But, in case you do, you should know that there is a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that can live in cat feces and it can cause a dangerous infection in your baby called toxoplasmosis.
Who needs to worry about toxoplasmosis?
In healthy people with a good immune system, toxoplasmosis has virtually no symptoms. At most, you may experience mild flu-like symptoms like body aches, fever, headache, and fatigue. However, in people with weakened immune systems, such as those receiving chemotherapy or immunosuppressant medications, the symptoms can be much more severe including blurred vision from inflammation within your eye and seizures from inflammation in your brain.
Another group who is very susceptible to the effects of toxoplasmosis are unborn children. The infection is able to cross the placenta and infect the baby which can result in a number of complications well into their teenage years.
Your baby is most susceptible to contracting toxoplasmosis in the third trimester. However, infections that occur earlier in pregnancy also carry more serious outcomes. At worst, an infection can result in miscarriage or stillbirth. Children who survive are at risk for seizures, an enlarged liver or spleen, jaundice, and severe eye infections.
Risk of Infection to the Baby if the Mother Contracts Toxoplasmosis
Not all children who contract toxoplasmosis prenatally exhibit symptoms right away. In fact, the majority don’t show any signs or symptoms at birth. However, there is a risk that these children may develop hearing loss and mental disability in their teenage years or even later.
Before you panic thinking that you’ve for sure hurt your unborn baby, I should note that the chance of contracting toxoplasmosis is very low. Congenital toxoplasmosis is only thought to affect about 1 in 10,000 births. Due to the low prevalence in the Canadian population, routine screening is not currently required for pregnant mothers.
The Best Approach is Prevention
T. gondii can infect most animals and birds. However, it only reproduces in cats. Due to this, you can become infected by coming into contact with infected cat feces through gardening or cleaning litter boxes and then touching your eyes, nose, or face. Other routes of infection include ingesting infected produce or undercooked meat (especially pork, lamb, and venison) and drinking contaminated water.
The good news is toxoplasmosis is preventable. If you are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, it is important to ensure that you wash all produce, cook your meat thoroughly, and drink clean water. While gardening, wear gloves and refrain from touching your face. Lastly, as noted above, take a break from cleaning the litter box for the duration of your pregnancy and have your partner do it for you. You deserve it, supermom!
Wishing you a healthy pregnancy,