This year the theme of National Birth Defects Prevention Month is Prevent to Protect. This week we will be posting a series of guest posts from MotherToBaby’s Kirstie Perrotta, MPH, Lorrie Harris-Sagaribay, MPH, Robert Felix and Susan Sherman of the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS) Zika Task Force. Each day they will respond to one of the top five questions they receive about preventable infectious diseases and what you can do to prevent exposure during pregnancy.
“It’s 2018! I didn’t even know you could get syphilis nowadays!” Yes, I mentioned the stats about syphilis and other infections that can affect pregnancy to the caller who had contacted me through our free MotherToBaby helpline. I thought, this is a great time to educate her as well as others about a variety of infections. Some infections, like Zika, seem to make headlines every week, while others tend to be discussed much less frequently. January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, and this year’s focus is on infection prevention.
I didn’t find out I was pregnant until 12 weeks, and I’ve been changing my cat’s litter box this whole time. Am I at risk for toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis infection is caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. You can get it from handling cat feces or soil, or eating undercooked, infected meat that contains the parasite. Eating raw eggs or drinking unpasteurized milk are also possible sources.
Most adults with toxoplasmosis don’t have symptoms, but some have symptoms similar to the flu or mononucleosis, with swelling of the lymph nodes, fever, headache or muscle pain. In most cases, once a person gets toxoplasmosis, they cannot get it again. If a woman has an active toxoplasmosis infection during pregnancy, it can pass to the developing baby (called congenital toxoplasmosis infection). Not every infected baby will have problems, but the infection could cause a variety of developmental problems for the infant.
Up to 85% of pregnant women in the U.S. are at risk for toxoplasmosis infection. Generally, women who have recently acquired a cat or care for an outdoor cat may be at an increased risk for toxoplasmosis. Ask yourself: Have you ever been diagnosed with toxoplasmosis? How long have you had your cat? Is your cat indoor only, outdoor only, or both? Do you feed the cat raw meat? Talk to your healthcare provider if you have concerns and want to learn more about a blood test that can determine if you have ever had toxoplasmosis.
To avoid future infection, here are some precautions you can take: (1) wash your hands carefully after handling raw meat fruit, vegetables, and soil; (2) do not touch cat feces, or else wear gloves and immediately wash your hands afterwards if you must change the cat litter; (3) wash all fruits and vegetables; peeling fruits and vegetables can also help reduce risk of exposure; (4) cook meat until it is no longer pink and the juices run clear; and (5) do not feed your cat raw meat.
Other posts in the series:
MotherToBaby is a service of the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS), suggested resources by many agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you have questions about exposures during pregnancy and breastfeeding, please call MotherToBaby toll-FREE at 866-626-6847 or try out MotherToBaby’s new text information service by texting questions to (855) 999-3525. You can also visit MotherToBaby.org to browse a library of fact sheets about dozens of viruses, medications, vaccines, alcohol, diseases, or other exposures during pregnancy and breastfeeding or connect with all of our resources by downloading the new MotherToBaby free app, available on Android and iOS markets.