When should I be concerned about toxoplasmosis?
Generally if you have been infected with Toxoplasma before becoming pregnant your unborn child is protected by your immunity. Some experts suggest waiting for 6 months after a recent infection to become pregnant.
How do I know if I have been infected with Toxoplasma?
Your health care provider may suggest a blood test to check for antibodies to Toxoplasma if you are pregnant.
How can Toxoplasma affect my unborn child?
If you are newly infected with Toxoplasma while you are pregnant, or just before pregnancy, then you can pass the infection on to your baby. You may not have any symptoms from the infection. Most infected infants do not have symptoms at birth but can develop serious symptoms later in life, such as blindness or mental disability. Occasionally infected newborns have serious eye or brain damage at birth.
How is toxoplasmosis spread?
Cats play an important role in the spread of toxoplasmosis. They become infected by eating infected rodents, birds, or other small animals. The parasite is then passed in the cat's feces. Kittens and cats can shed millions of parasites in their feces for as long as 3 weeks after infection. Mature cats are less likely to shed Toxoplasma. Cats and kittens prefer litter boxes, garden soils, and sandboxes for elimination, and you may be exposed unintentionally by touching your mouth after changing a litter box, or while gardening without gloves. Fruits and vegetables may have contact with contaminated soil or water also, and you can be infected by eating fruits and vegetables if they are not cooked, washed, or peeled.
Do I have to give up my cat if I'm pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant?
No. You should follow these helpful tips to reduce your risk of environmental exposure to Toxoplasma.
- Avoid changing cat litter if possible. If no one else can perform the task, wear disposable gloves and wash your hands with soap and warm water afterwards.
- Ensure that the cat litter box is changed daily. The Toxoplasma parasite does not become infectious until 1 to 5 days after it is shed in a cat's feces.
- Feed your cat commercial dry or canned food, not raw or undercooked meats.
- Keep cats indoors.
- Avoid stray cats, especially kittens. Do not get a new cat while you are pregnant.
- Keep outdoor sandboxes covered.
- Wear gloves when gardening and during contact with soil or sand because it might be contaminated with cat feces that contain Toxoplasma. Wash hands with soap and warm water after gardening or contact with soil or sand.
More on: Handwashing
Is treatment available?
If you are infected during pregnancy, medication is available. You and your baby should be closely monitored during your pregnancy and after your baby is born.
What are the best ways to protect myself or my unborn child against toxoplasmosis?
Cat owners and women who are exposed to cats should follow the tips above regarding reducing expose to Toxoplasma.
You should also:
- Cook food to safe temperatures. A food thermometer should be used to measure the internal temperature of cooked meat. Do not sample meat until it is cooked. USDA recommends the following for meat preparation.
- For Whole Cuts of Meat (excluding poultry)
- Cook to at least 145° F (63° C) as measured with a food thermometer placed in the thickest part of the meat, then allow the meat to rest* for three minutes before carving or consuming.
- For Ground Meat (excluding poultry)
- Cook to at least 160° F (71° C); ground meats do not require a rest* time.
- For All Poultry (whole cuts and ground)
- Cook to at least 165° F (74° C), and for whole poultry allow the meat to rest* for three minutes before carving or consuming.
*According to USDA, "A 'rest time' is the amount of time the product remains at the final temperature, after it has been removed from a grill, oven, or other heat source. During the three minutes after meat is removed from the heat source, its temperature remains constant or continues to rise, which destroys pathogens."
More on: Fight BAC: Safe Food Handling
- For Whole Cuts of Meat (excluding poultry)
- Freeze meat for several days at sub-zero (0° F) temperatures before cooking to greatly reduce chance of infection.
- Peel or wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating.
- Wash cutting boards, dishes, counters, utensils, and hands with hot soapy water after contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood, or unwashed fruits or vegetables.
- Avoid drinking untreated water.