When women become pregnant, a question they are commonly asked by their doctors is whether they have cats. This is because there is a possibility of contracting toxoplasmosis by caring for felines. Something that those who have dogs do not need to contend with. And because contracting the infection can cause pregnancy complications, given the susceptibility of congenital toxoplasmosis mothers-to-be need to be cautious when it comes to toxoplasmosis exposure by knowing how to prevent it.
Pregnancy is a time to be excited about the future while being cautious when it comes to contagions. This is because the body’s immune system is not as strong as it is pre-pregnancy. As a result, women may find themselves becoming sicker more frequently than they would before expecting. But by being cognizant of what they are coming into contact with, women can prevent many of the illnesses they are exposed to, including toxoplasmosis.
Here is why most women are susceptible to congenital toxoplasmosis and ways to prevent it.
What Congenital Toxoplasmosis Is
Congenital toxoplasmosis occurs when women are exposed to the toxoplasmosis parasite during pregnancy, according to MedlinePlus. While mothers-to-be may not even be aware that they are infected, the infection from the parasite will cross the placenta, per the publication.
When this happens, there can be any number of complications that babies will have to contend with. And the earlier that toxoplasmosis is contracted during pregnancy, according to MedlinePlusthe greater the complications may be.
Why Pregnant Women Are Susceptible To Congenital Toxoplasmosis
Many women have not even heard about toxoplasmosis until they become pregnant. This is why healthcare professionals speak with those expecting about the possibility of infection because the risk is great during pregnancy. So much so, that according to MotherToBaby, 65 percent to 85 percent of pregnant women in the United States alone have the possibility of contracting toxoplasmosis. And when this happens, the risk of congenital toxoplasmosis is dramatically increased.
Outside of having an immune system that is not as strong as it was before becoming pregnant, there are reasons that mothers-to-be are susceptible to congenital toxoplasmosis. Those reasons, according to the March of Dimes include:
- Scooping cat litter
- Eating meats that are not thoroughly cooked
- Not washing fruits and vegetables well
- Adopting a cat during pregnancy
Given that caring for cats, gardening, and cooking are things that are commonplace for much of the population, it means that pregnant women are included in that group as well. But with not being able to fight off the infection as they would be they not pregnant, the chances of contracting toxoplasmosis are greater than it would be with others.
Symptoms Of Congenital Toxoplasmosis
If pregnant women are found to have contracted toxoplasmosis, they may not even be aware that they were infected. As such, according to the Centers for Disease Controldoctors who suspect there is an infection will do blood tests during pregnancy to determine if the parasite is present.
When tests come back positive for toxoplasmosis, doctors will recommend medications for expecting mothers to take to clear the infection. However, per publication, both babies and pregnant women will need to be monitored closely for the remainder of the pregnancy to be aware of the first sign of complications.
After babies are born, there will be signs and symptoms that doctors will look for to determine if babies are fighting the toxoplasmosis parasite that will present both at birth and in the weeks and months after. According to the Centers for Disease Controlthose signs and symptoms include:
- Extremely low birth weight
- Premature birth
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Larger than normal spleen or liver
- Loss of hearing
- Problems with vision
- Physical delays
While these and other complications are scary to contend with, per the publication, if babies are treated early, they generally grow up without serious problems presenting. It is when the treatment is not received that issues may arise.
How To Treat Congenital Toxoplasmosis
If it is determined during pregnancy that women are positive for toxoplasmosis, according to ScienceDirectone of several medications will be recommended to help get rid of the infection before it has an opportunity to cross the placenta to babies.
According to KidsHealth, if babies are found to have congenital toxoplasmosis, they will need to take an anti-parasite medication to rid their bodies of the infection. Babies will need to be monitored to determine what, if any, issues will present as a result of being infected.
How To Prevent Toxoplasmosis
While a large population of pregnant women is at risk of contracting toxoplasmosis, there are ways to prevent becoming a statistic.
According to WebMDways to prevent toxoplasmosis include:
- Washing hands thoroughly after touching raw meat
- Cooking meat thoroughly
- Having someone else clean the litter box
- Wear gloves if pregnant women only have the option of cleaning the litter box
- Wear gloves while gardening
- Avoid coming in contact with stray cats
- Do not adopt cats during pregnancy
Pregnant women who follow these helpful hints greatly reduce their risk of contracting toxoplasmosis.
Caring For Cats When Pregnant
With the emphasis being put on cat feces as the main way to contract toxoplasmosis, many women believe the smartest thing for them to do is to rehome their cats once they become pregnant. Fortunately, this is not necessary.
According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, when cats are allowed to go outdoors and hunt prey, they can pose a risk of passing toxoplasmosis to pregnant women via their feces. However, given that the parasite is not infectious until one to five days after cats have used the litter box, according to the CDCkeeping the litter box cleaned daily will cut back the risk of infection.
Further still, according to the ACOG, cats who are indoor cats only pose a very small risk of passing toxoplasmosis to a pregnant woman. This is because they are not hunting prey, which is where the parasite is hosted. And because of this, cats can remain in the home when pregnant.
Source: MedlinePlus, MotherToBaby, March of Dimes, Centers for Disease Control, KidsHealth, ScienceDirect, WebMD, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists