You may already have been told that cat feces can contain parasites, and that pregnant women should not change cat litter–but did you know that about 25% of the US population has the infection anyway, and it’s not regularly screened?

Two parasitic strains of the Toxoplasma gondii parasite commonly contracted by cats and then transmitted to humans have been linked to birth defects by a new study. In some European countries, pregnant women are regularly screened for parasites, but screening and treating parasites is not common practice in the US, for pregnant women or people with possible symptoms of parasites.

Other sources can also lead to parasitic infection—handling raw soil, walking barefoot over soil, or eating undercooked meat that has been contaminated by a parasite. In the US, meat is generally less likely to contain parasites, but the risk is nowhere near zero.

Since symptoms of parasites may not show up at first, can resemble a minor infection (flu-like symptoms) or can resemble other diseases, it’s the last thing doctors check for, and in the meantime it can cause health problems if left untreated.

Like many common bacterial infections, Toxoplasma gondii is transmitted through feces. Unfortunately, the eggs are super strong, and resistant to cleaning by even the harshest chemicals like bleach. The best way to avoid contamination is by reducing exposure. Here are the steps that are recommended:

-Cat owners should get cats checked once or twice a year—most cats contract the disease through mice, so if you’re cat’s an outdoor animal or a predator opt for two yearly screenings Otherwise, screen for symptoms of parasites at their yearly exam.
-Keep cats off kitchen counters. Parasite eggs are microscopic, and they could be carrying them from their litter box to your lunch.
-Pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems should order their meat well done. Everyone else should watch for symptoms of parasites, although it’s less likely.
-Get screened yearly, and consider Parasite CLNz (do not take while pregnant or on other medications without consulting your treating physician). It’s a natural way to help the body eliminate parasites.

Don’t forget to take preventative steps against other cat parasites, like fleas and worms! Talk to your vet.

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