Traditionally, most doctors have agreed that pregnant women should limit their contact with cats due to the potential infection from toxoplasmosis. Yet, according to a recent article in The Archives of Internal Medicine, cited in The New York Times, undercooked meat was more to blame for toxoplasmosis than exposure to cats is.
In the article, Dr. Jeffrey D. Kravetz of the Yale School of Medicine said casual contact with a cat would not expose pregnant women to the toxoplasmosis disease that can cause miscarriages or fetal damage. Casual contact excluded direct contact with fecal material of cats, where oocysts of toxoplasmosis are found.
Indoor cats are unlikely to spread the disease, and older outdoor cats are less likely to carry toxoplasmosis than younger cats, according to Kravetz.
To be safe, women have been discouraged from litter box contact if they are contemplating pregnancy or are at any stage in pregnancy. Kravetz said about 3,000 pregnant women do transmit the toxoplasmosis infection to their fetuses every year, but he argues that the source of many of these infections is either contaminated meat or infected soil.
Still, Kravetz suggested concerned cat owners wear gloves when changing litter boxes and change litter often. In households where others (such as male significant others) are present, perhaps it would be most practical for them to help in this task. Women also can take a test to see if they have already developed antibodies to toxoplasmosis, therefore having developed immunity to the disease. The medical community has always maintained that first exposure to toxoplasmosis with subsequent seroconversion during the first trimester of pregnancy was the most threatening scenario to the health of women and their fetuses.
-- Chris Duke is a veterinarian at Bienville Animal Medical Center in Ocean Springs, Miss.