Understanding Toxoplasmosis, Cats and Pregnant Women

Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite. The disease is frequent in animals, especially cats and may also affect humans. The parasite may harm a human fetus, so pregnant women need to be careful to avoid possible complications and the infection of the fetus.

How Is Toxoplasmosis Transmitted

In cats, toxoplasmosis is transmitted through the ingestion of feces that contain the parasite or from mother to fetus. The parasite may be transmitted through ingestion of an infected rodent or raw or undercooked meat that contains toxoplasma cysts.

Humans may contract the disease if they come in contact with cat urine or feces or by ingesting undercooked meat that contains cysts.

Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis may be asymptomatic. In some cases it will cause flu symptoms, so it can easily be mistaken for flu:

  • Muscle pain
  • Swelling of the lymphatic nodes
  • Lethargy

These symptoms may last for 4 to 8 weeks.

However, pregnant women or people with a weaker immune system such as children or elderly people can become very sick and in rare cases, the infection may be fatal.

Toxoplasmosis and Related Health Issues

Toxoplasmosis is likely to attack people with a weak immune system and pregnant women.

The parasite may attack the brain causing encephalitis or attack the heart, liver or the eyes.

The fetus of a pregnant woman may be severely affected; the baby may be born with nasal malformations or vision problems or even brain damage. However, affected babies may not show any symptoms at birth, but develop these later.

Research has shown a connection between the infection with toxoplasmosis of the fetus and mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.

In rare cases, pregnant women may lose the fetus due to the toxoplasma parasite.

Treating Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis can be diagnosed by running a blood test and the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing.

Toxoplasmosis may be treated with anti-protozoan medication and antibiotics. The most common drugs prescribed for toxomplasmosis are:

  • Antimalarial medication
  • Sulfadiazine
  • Clydamycin

However, people with a healthy immune system may not need treatment, as they present no symptoms.

Preventing Toxoplasmosis

As the Toxoplasma gondii parasite may be present in the urine and the feces of the cat, it is important to avoid the direct contact with these.

Pregnant women should not handle cat feces or cat litter. Feces may be present in the garden too, so pregnant women should avoid gardening. The toxoplasma cysts can survive for up to one year, even when frozen or exposed to bleach or other harsh chemicals. The cysts may be destroyed by cooking and high temperatures.

However, if the woman has been exposed to the parasite prior to the pregnancy, the fetus is not at risk. If the woman wasn't exposed to the toxoplasma parasite before, a monthly serology testing is recommended to avoid transmitting the parasite to the baby.

Toxoplasmosis is a rare parasitic disease, most infected people being only carriers. However pregnant women should be extra cautious around cats during the pregnancy.