NEW SURVEY SHOWS PREGNANT WOMEN GETTING MIXED MESSAGES ON TOXOPLASMOSIS AND CATS
WASHINGTON (December 28, 2004)- A report published in the current issue of Contemporary OB/GYN magazine finds that physicians continue to focus on cats as a main cause of toxoplasmosis transmission in the United States despite evidence to the contrary.
Toxoplasmosis is a disease that is transmitted through contact with infected meat or through accidental ingestion of contaminated cat feces. While the disease does not pose a serious threat to healthy individuals, an active infection during pregnancy can result in eye or brain damage in infants.
According to James Richards, DVM, director of The Cornell Feline Health Center at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, acquiring toxoplasmosis directly from one's pet cat is close to impossible. "Dealing with the most likely sources of infection instead of erroneously blaming-and then banning-the cat will help to keep the entire family, including its feline members, living together in harmony," Richards said. "Misinformed advice to 'get rid of the cat' needlessly creates a lot of heartache."
In January 2004, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) conducted a comprehensive mailing including the brochure, "Your Baby and Your Pet," to 32,636 practicing Fellows, Jr. Fellows and Associate Affiliate members of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). The brochure focuses on proper ways to introduce babies and pets and provides accurate information about toxoplasmosis. Also included was "Toxoplasmosis: A Practical Guide for the Clinician," written by Jeffrey D. Kravetz, MD, of Yale University School of Medicine, and a postcard request with a survey. A cover letter in the packet was penned by Patrick Duff, MD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at The University of Florida.
The postcard survey asked two questions: Do you ask your pregnant patients if they have cats? If they have cats what do you advise? Respondents had eight selections to choose from including an option of "other," to include anything not presented in the selections. Respondents were asked to check all that apply. Choices included: blood tests for mother; blood tests for cat; put cat outside; re-home cat; have someone else clean the litter box; avoid eating raw or undercooked meat; wear gloves when gardening.
Most OB/GYNs ask their pregnant patients if they have a cat, according to the survey findings. For patients who have a cat, 1,364 physicians offices recommended not cleaning the litter box, 1101 said to avoid raw or undercooked meat and 888 recommended wearing gloves while gardening. Approximately one-half of all respondents indicate that doctors are not advising patients of all three sources of infection. Results of the survey are based on 1, 459 responses from doctors' offices in all 50 states.
"What we are seeing in the results is that most doctors still focus on the pet cat as the primary source for toxoplasmosis infection, when in reality, pregnant women in the U.S are more likely to contract the disease from eating raw or undercooked meat and from gardening without wearing gloves," said Dr. Patrick Duff.
More than 400 doctors recommended blood tests for pregnant women who have cats. However, this is not recommended in the U.S., according to Dr. Jeffrey D. Kravetz in the "Practical Guide for the Clinician," since the false positive rate and the low prevalence of congenital infection make screening for pregnant women problematic.
Nancy Peterson, issues specialist for The HSUS reports in the article, "While there were only 42 responses of 're-home cat' or 'put cat outside,' that number grows enormously when multiplied by the number of patients who receive that advice and pass it on."
The survey results reinforce the need for doctors nationwide to dispel the myths and get the facts on toxoplasmosis. Knowing the right precautions will allow more pregnant women to take the appropriate preventative measures to protect their unborn babies without having to give up the beloved family cat.
"Millions of American households include cats," Peterson said. "The good news is that it is safe to keep your cat if you're pregnant as long as you follow a few simple precautions. Keeping your cat indoors and asking your neighbors to do the same is the best prevention."
Editor's note: The HSUS packet including "Your Baby & Your Pet," and "Toxoplasmosis: A Practical Guide for the Clinician," is available upon request. The mailing was recently honored by the Cat Writers' Association.
An electronic photo file (jpeg) of the "Your Baby & Your Pet" brochure is also available.
Polly O. Shannon, 301-548-7793, firstname.lastname@example.org
Karen L. Allanach, 301-548-7778, email@example.com.