The Low-Down on Toxoplasmosis + Pregnancy

Kitty Litter? Raw Meat? Unwashed Veggies? Gardening?

How Serious is Toxoplasmosis Anyways?

If you are exposed to toxoplasmosis for the first time in your 1st trimester, it can be dangerous for your baby – causing low IQ, vision problems, epilepsy or even death. So yup – it super serious. With the risk for serious complications being tied to contracting this parasite early in the pregnancy.

However it’s important to understand that risk only applies if you are expose for the very first time while pregnant. Re-exposure carries NO risk as you can not become reinfected. Currently in North America it is estamated that about a quarter, AKA a full 25% of the population, already carry this. You might have had it and not even noticed as the symptoms are very similar to a common flu.

Let’s talk cats!

Usually you’ll hear the word toxoplasmosis in the context of cleaning your cat’s litter box, though that’s actually the least common way of contracting this parasite.

Let me explain why.

  1. Your cat must have eaten raw meat, or dug in infected dirt to catch the parasite. If your cat regularly catches and eats mice, that’s a larger risk. If your cat is a house cat, who never goes outside, then risk of your cat having toxoplasmosis effectively drops to zero.
  2. You can only catch the parasite from the kitty litter if your cat is infected for the very first time. So likely if your cat hunts outside regularly – they already have immunity.

You might want to be careful or avoid the litter if you have a kitten who eats raw meat or digs in the dirt a lot.

Let’s talk dirt!

This parasite can live in dirt, and there is a significant risk associated with getting toxoplasmosis while working in the soil. If you love gardening, and you want to rest easy – you can ask your doctor to get screened so you’ll know for sure if you have had it or not.

One study in Europe looked at pregnant women with and without toxoplasmosis and compared behaviours to see which actions were correlated with high infection rates. Interestingly, there was no difference between women had a cat, or didn’t, who cleaned the litter box or didn’t, or had a cat who hunted outside or didn’t. Suggesting that the cat risk is very low indeed.

That same study did find a strong correlation between toxoplasmosis and working with soil.

So if you do plan to garden this year, wear gloves, wash your hands after, and you might consider wearing a mask to avoid inhaling any particles.

Let’s talk food

As for food contamination, you can greatly lower your risk by avoiding raw meat or undercooked meat (rare steak for example). Contaminated raw meat is the most common source of toxoplasmosis in the USA. So as long as your meat is cooked – you are all safe! Also be sure to wash with hot soapy water all cutting boards, dishes, counter tops which have been in contact with raw meat.
Anything that has been in contact with the soil, could also be infected. So it’s a good idea to thoroughly wash all your fruits and veggies. Doing so has the additional benefit of lowering your risk of other food born illnesses. So it’s just a good habit to get into.

Although it’s a serious condition, by taking these simple steps, you can effectively lower your risk, and sleep easy at night.

  • When gardening wear gloves and consider wearing a mask
  • Avoid raw meat
  • Wash all fruits and veggies
  • If your cat is at risk, get someone else to change the litter or at least wear gloves when doing so.

Speaking of sleeping easy… have you gotten the Roadmap to a Peaceful Pregnancy? Scroll down…

1. CDC: Preventing Congenital Toxoplasmosis
2. Sources of toxoplasma infection in pregnant women: European multicentre case-control study.
3. Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong – and What You Really Need to Know, by Emily Oster, 2019

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