The odds of having a problem with toxoplasmosis are low -- one in 1,000 pregnancies are affected -- but the consequences are serious. In some cases, babies have been born with birth defects, such as severe learning disabilities, water on the brain, or deafness.
So doctors like Dr. David Hager, an obstetrician from Lexington, Kentucky, tell their patients to play it safe if they have cats at home. "I give everyone the same advice: Stay away from cat litter and avoid raw meat and you shouldn't be at risk," he says.
Ask your doctor about a blood test that will show if you have already been exposed to toxoplasmosis. If so, experts say you probably won't be infected again while pregnant because your body has built up a resistance to it. If not, be extra cautious about avoiding exposure.
Also, test the cat. "If the cat tests positive, that means he's been exposed in the past and is unlikely to shed these little things in his stool," says Dr. James Richards, a Cornell University veterinarian. "In a sense, a positively-testing cat is probably the best guy to have around."
Outdoor cats are more likely to catch toxoplasmosis from eating birds and mice than an indoor cat who eats food from the pet store, Richards says.
To reduce your risk of toxoplasmosis infection, be sure to follow these safety guidelines:
- Wear rubber gloves when gardening and wash uncooked vegetables.
- Cover outdoor sandboxes so cats can't use them.
- Keep kitchen counters clean and don't let cats jump on them.
- Wash hands well after petting cats.
- Consider keeping outdoor cats inside until the baby comes.
- Avoid eating dishes with rare meat, especially pork or lamb. Eat only thoroughly cooked meat.
- Don't drink unpasteurized milk.
- Wash hands, utensils and cutting boards after handling raw meat, fruits and vegetables to prevent cross contamination.