Words by: Lamees
Translation by: M.K.
Design by: Lina A
What is the relationship between felines and childbirth in humans?
Many misconceptions circulate about cats and their relation to female infertility as well as them being a cause of blindness or mental disability in fetuses. In fact, a single internet search is enough to find hundreds of articles discussing this frequently asked question: do felines cause female infertility?
The misconceptions intensify when a pregnant woman shares an environment with a cat, as she is usually asked to abandon the pet because of the fatal threat it poses to the fetus. Irrational fear and panic are also instilled in the mother in a way that does not address the reality of the infection that gets linked exclusively to cats. In this article, we will explore the truth behind these misconceptions, and the nature of the relationship between cats, (human) childbirth, and female infertility.
Can felines really transmit a pregnancy-related infection?
Cats do not transmit a pregnancy-related infection, but this causal relation is exaggerated because they may carry a parasite that could cause toxoplasmosis.1 Any human can contract it in the right conditions for its transmission, and studies show that it is one of the most common parasitic infections in the world.2 It is estimated that a third of the world’s population has contracted it, and that the most common form of toxoplasmosis is an asymptomatic latent disease. However, in children, the symptoms are similar to those of influenza or mumps.
Is this infection transmitted solely by felines?
It is worth noting that this infection is not exclusively linked to cats, but it can have different modes of transmission, such as: eating undercooked meat or unwashed vegetables and indirectly digesting cat feces, which is unlikely to happen in the case of basic hygiene.3
Does this infection only affect women?
It is common to warn women of becoming infertile if they are near cats, but it is rare to see the same speech directed at males. In light of the lack of proof of direct and indirect relationships between fertility levels and proximity to cats, it is interesting to think about the roots of this myth. Why would an absurd rumor about preserving fertility and the fear of fertility being compromised be linked to women, specifically, unless society grants fertility an aura of holiness that makes it essential to determining women’s value and benefit to society?
Design by Lina A
Is toxoplasmosis chronic and incurable?
The symptoms of toxoplasmosis vary depending on the infected person’s immune system. Its symptoms go unnoticed in most immunocompetent persons who do not need treatment once infected.4 However, symptoms could be severe for people with advanced autoimmune diseases. And, in cases of mother-to-child vertical transmission, they may suffer serious complications linked to their weakened immunity.5 Nonetheless, it must be noted that these cases are rare.6 Several studies show that periodic screenings for toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, followed by treatment with Spiramycin for severe infections and pyrsulf for those who suffer from a proven pregnancy infection, help prevent vertical transmission and reduce the severity of toxoplasmosis.
Is it easy to protect ourselves and our cats from this infection?
We could protect our indoor cats by providing them with clean water, avoiding feeding them raw meats, and possibly performing blood tests on the cat while its owner is pregnant to ensure it is free of any infection. As for humans, they could protect themselves by carefully washing their vegetables and fruits before eating them, avoiding eating raw or undercooked meats, as well as cleaning their hands thoroughly after cleaning the pet’s litterbox. That way, we could all be safe.
- Geita Saadatnia & Majid Golkar (2012) A review on human toxoplasmosis, Scandinavian Journal of Infectious Diseases, 44:11, 805-814.
- A Dalami and A Abdoli (2012) Latent toxoplasmosis and human, Iranian Journal of Parasitology, 7(1): 1-17.
- D. Hill and JP Dubey (2002) Toxoplasma gondii: transmission, diagnosis and prevention, Clinical Microbiology and infection, 8:10, 634-640.
- Jitender Dubey (2021) Outbreaks of clinical toxoplasmosis in humans: five decades of personal experience, perspectivs and lessons learned, Parasites and Vectors (14). https://parasitesandvectors.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13071-021-04769-4.
- Ildiko Dunay et. al. (2018) Treatment of Toxoplasmosis: Historical perspective, animal models, and current clinical practice. Clinical Microbiology Reviews. https://journals.asm.org/doi/full/10.1128/CMR.00057-17
- Dubey (2021)