Toxoplasmosis and Human Pregnancy
Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a particular organism known as Toxoplasma gondii. Some may have heard of this disease during any pre natal visits associated with having a child. This is because this disease is not only capable of infecting animals such as cats and sheep, but also humans, including unborn children.
People get this disease when inadvertently eating contaminated cat feces (as simple as putting a contaminated hand or finger in your mouth after gardening or cleaning a litter box), undercooked or raw hog or lamb meat or consuming raw goat milk. This organism is capable of crossing the placenta of a pregnant woman and infecting an unborn child if this is the first time the mother has been exposed to the organism. A woman who has already been exposed (most likely unknowingly) to the disease and/or as an otherwise normal immune system, is not likely to become symptomatic for the disease or transmit the organism to an unborn child. In fact, it’s estimated that roughly 1/3rd of the US population has been exposed to Toxoplasmosis and likely doesn’t even know it!
In the unfortunate, and luckily rare, event that an unborn child does become infected, the amount of damage done depends on the stage of pregnancy. Infection mid pregnancy can result in varying degrees of blindness or other neurological conditions in babies. Due to these potential repercussions on the unborn child, testing for Toxoplasmosis is usually part of a pre-natal evaluation. An adult with Toxoplasmosis can experience fever, swollen lymph nodes, muscle and joint pain and a sore abdomen. Again, symptoms can be mild enough though that the infection goes unnoticed.
Although it is possible to get this disease from cats, no correlation has been found to cat ownership and Toxoplasmosis infection. Most people acquire this infection by eating under cooked meats and handling raw meat, not from cats. Regardless, washing your hands regularly, wearing gloves while gardening and having someone else clean litter boxes when pregnant can eliminate the risk of infection if you are pregnant. In addition, cooking all meats, consuming only pasteurized milk and cautious handling of raw meat are just as important.
If you have any questions about this disease and its possible impact on your pregnancy, please consult with your physician for more information.