by Dr. Kerris Dillon

Do you have a compromised immune system? Do you know someone with a compromised immune system? Are you thinking about getting pregnant or are already pregnant? If so, then you may want to know about Toxoplasmosis.

Millions of individuals within the United States have the Toxoplasma parasite within their bodies, but are not impacted by it because their immune system fights it. A person can be carrying the Toxoplasma gondii parasite and never even know it. The parasite is more difficult to fight off for individuals with a compromised immune system or that are pregnant.

The most common way that individuals get the parasite is through ingesting undercooked meat. The most likely meats to carry this parasite are lamb, deer, mussels, pork, clams, and oysters. This can have dire consequences if it is ingested by a woman that is pregnant. This is why it is so important for meat to be fully cooked, countertops to be cleaned both before and after preparation, and to not reuse knives that have cut raw meat to cut other food items like bread. Make sure that all cutting boards, dishes, sinks, countertops, knives, and utensils that have come into contact with raw meat are sufficiently cleaned before they are used again.

Another way that individuals come into contact with the Toxoplasma parasite is through cat feces via the litter box. Pregnant women are asked not to clean a cat’s litter box throughout their pregnancy in case of contamination. 40 weeks may seem like a long time for someone else to clean the cat’s litter box, but it is worth it to keep an unborn baby safe from this parasite.

The most common symptom of Toxoplasmosis is the aching of muscles much like the flu, but this will last for more than 4 weeks. If the parasite is able to get strength, it can damage the eyes, organs, or the brain of the individual. An unborn baby may show no signs of the parasite at birth or could have eye or brain damage depending upon the strength of the infection.

There are blood tests that are available for individuals if they have concerns about the parasite. If a pregnant woman tests positive for the parasite, she will need to talk about the risks with her doctor. Sometimes, there are medications available if the healthcare professional believes it to be necessary. Otherwise, it is just important the pregnant woman to remain extra precautious concerning the risks noted above.

If you do have a cat, you can limit your cat’s chances of becoming infected with the Toxoplasmosis parasite by keeping them indoors and not feeding them uncooked meat. If you are the individual changing the litterbox (while not pregnant), cleaning it out daily will also reduce the chances of picking up the parasite. You do not need to get rid of your cat if you are going to become pregnant or are already pregnant. By following some of the recommendations above, you will be able to reduce your risk of the Toxoplasmosis parasite.

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