What is toxoplasmosis and should I be worried about it?

Q: I've heard that cats can be dangerous to pregnant women because of something called toxoplasmosis. What is this?

A: Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a parasite that can be transmitted to humans through contact with feces of an infected cat, though it is more commonly acquired through eating raw or undercooked infected meat. If a woman were to become infected during pregnancy, she could pass the parasite on to her fetus; risks include fever, rash, vision and hearing loss, mental retardation and miscarriage. If, on the other hand, she were to contract toxoplasmosis before pregnancy, she would develop immunity and not be at risk of developing the disease again or infecting her fetus.

If you're worried, talk to your doctor; a blood test can tell if you are immune, infected, or have had no exposure to the parasite. If you're infected, you'll be treated with antibiotics; treatment for the baby also can be undertaken.

Meantime, avoid the litter box, wear gloves while gardening, don't eat raw or undercooked meat--and rest assured that you needn't give away your cat.
 

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