It's a parasite found in raw and undercooked meat; unwashed fruits and vegetables; water; dust; soil; dirty cat-litter boxes; and outdoor places where cat feces can be found. 

It can cause an illness called toxoplasmosis that can be particularly harmful to you and your unborn baby.

 

You could get this illness by:

  • Eating raw or undercooked meat, especially pork, lamb, or venison.
  • Touching your hands to your mouth after handling undercooked meat.
  • Using knives, pots, cutting boards that have had contact with raw meat.
  • Using contaminated foods that have had contact with raw meat.
  • Drinking water contaminated with T. gondii.
  • Accidentally ingesting contaminated cat feces, which can occur if you:

           + Touch your hands to your mouth after gardening, 

          + Cleaning a litter box, 

          + Touching anything that comes in contact with cat feces. 

Facts: About 85% of pregnant women are at risk of being infected with toxoplasmosis. 

Studies show that the risk of Toxoplasma infection during pregnancy is 20% to 50%, depending on the timing of the infection. 

 

Toxoplasmosis Symptoms

You may experience swollen glands, fever, headache, muscle pain, or a stiff neck. Toxoplasmosis can be difficult to detect. Some women infected with the parasite may not have noticeable symptoms - so a pregnant woman can easily expose her fetus to toxoplasmosis without even being aware that she's ill. 

 

Prevention of toxoplasmosis is very important

If you do experience any of the above symptoms, see your doctor or health-care provider immediately.

 

Toxoplasmosis and the baby

Acute infections in pregnant women can be transmitted to unborn babies, Toxoplasma Gondii can cause: 

  • Hearing loss
  • Mental retardation
  • Blindness
  • Epilepsy
  • Some children can develop brain or eye problems years after birth
  • Special education for years
  • Ophthalmology visits for years

By age 20, as many as 80% of children born with toxoplasmosis that was left untreated develop impairments ranging from mental retardation to blindness.

Early identification and treatment of children infected with T. gondii is essential in order to minimize the parasite's effects.

An estimated 400-4,000 cases of congenital toxoplasmosis occur each year in the United States. Of the 750 deaths attributed to toxoplasmosis each year, 375 (50%) are believed to be caused by eating contaminated meat, making toxoplasmosis the third leading cause of food-borne deaths in USA. Some experts estimate that Toxoplasma kills as many as 80 infants in the U.S. each year.

 

You can prevent toxoplasmosis

You and your family should:

Wash your hands with soap and warm water after touching soil, sand, raw meat, cat litter, or unwashed vegetables. Wash all cutting boards and knives thoroughly with soap and hot water after each use. Thoroughly wash and/or peel all fruits and vegetables before eating them.

Separate raw meat from other foods in your grocery shopping cart, refrigerator, and while preparing and handling foods at home.

Cook meat thoroughly. The internal temperature of the meat should reach 71° C. Use a food thermometer to check. Don't sample meat until it's cooked.

Avoid drinking untreated water, particularly when traveling in less-developed countries.

 

For Cat Lovers

Don't give "Fluffy" away.  

T. gondii infects essentially all cats that spend any time outdoors. Cats get this parasite by eating small animals or raw meat that's been infected. The parasite is then passed on through the cat's feces. It doesn't make the cat sick, so a pregnant woman may not know if her cat has it. The parasite becomes infectious 1-5 days after it's shed in the feces. 

You will have to observe the following:

  • Have someone else change the litter box.
  • If you have to clean it, wear disposable gloves
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water afterwards.
  • Change the litter box daily.
  • Cats may have excreted feces in indoor or outdoor sand boxes 
  • Wear gloves when gardening or handing outdoor or indoor sandboxes   
  • Feed your cat commercial dry or canned food.
  • Never feed your cat raw meat as it can be a source of the T. gondii.
  • Keep indoor cats indoors.
  • Be especially cautious if you bring outdoor cats indoors.
  • Avoid stray cats, especially kittens.
  • Don't get a new cat while you're pregnant.
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