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Are Cats Affecting Our Fertility?

There are emerging concerns about the potential health risks associated with handling domestic cats
03:37 AM Jun 28, 2024 IST | Guest Contributor
are cats affecting our fertility

In recent years, Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed a significant rise in cat ownership, mirroring a global trend towards embracing pets as part of family life. While the companionship of these furry friends brings joy to many households, there are emerging concerns about the potential health risks associated with handling domestic cats.


According to alarming reports from the Department of Community Medicine, at their Anti-Rabies Clinic at GMC Srinagar, incidents of cat scratches and bites have skyrocketed from a few hundred to thousands within just couple of years. This sharp increase underscores the need for heightened awareness and proactive measures to mitigate the associated health hazards.


Understanding the Health Risks


Cat scratches and bites can introduce viruses, bacteria and parasites into the human body, posing various health risks. One such bacterium is Bartonella Henselae, responsible for causing cat scratch disease (CSD). Symptoms of CSD include swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, and fatigue. While typically self-limiting in healthy individuals, those with weakened immune systems may experience more severe complications. Furthermore, there is a possible link between scratches or bites from domestic cats and the spread of rabies, although this occurrence is uncommon compared to animals such as dogs, bats, or wildlife, which are more frequently linked to rabies transmission (a condition that can be fatal if not promptly treated). Domestic cats can contract rabies if they come into contact with infected animals and can transmit the virus through their saliva if they themselves are infected.


Another significant concern is Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite commonly found in cat faeces. The worldwide occurrence of T. gondii infection in domestic cats is estimated to range between 25% and 30%. In India, the prevalence of T. gondii infection is endemic, with rates varying from 5% to 20% among the Indian population. While cats themselves may show no symptoms, they can shed the parasite intermittently, especially if they are outdoor cats. Humans can contract toxoplasmosis by inadvertently ingesting contaminated soil, water, or food, or through direct contact with cat feces. While Toxoplasma gondii does not directly cause infertility in men or women, its effects on pregnancy can be profound. Pregnant women who contract toxoplasmosis may transmit the infection to their unborn child, resulting in congenital disabilities such as neurological disorders, vision impairment, or developmental delays. Furthermore, severe cases of toxoplasmosis during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth, underscoring the importance of preventive measures.


Overall, while women of reproductive age (15-49 years) are not inherently at higher risk of contracting toxoplasmosis compared to other age groups, they need to be vigilant due to the potential implications for pregnancy and fetal health. Taking appropriate preventive measures and seeking medical advice if there is a concern about exposure or symptoms is crucial for ensuring both maternal and fetal health.


Men and adolescent boys can also be at risk of contracting toxoplasmosis, although the primary concern regarding pregnancy and fetal health does not apply to them directly. In healthy individuals, toxoplasmosis often causes mild flu-like symptoms or no symptoms at all. These can include swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches, and fatigue. In some cases, it may cause eye problems or more severe symptoms if the immune system is compromised.


Preventive Measures

To minimize the risk of contracting cat-related infections, several precautions are recommended:

  1. Hygiene Practices: Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling cats, their litter boxes, or any items potentially contaminated with cat feces.
  2. Avoid Handling Faeces: Pregnant women should avoid cleaning the litter box if possible. If unavoidable, wear disposable gloves and wash hands meticulously afterward.
  3. Cook Food Thoroughly: Ensure meat is cooked to safe temperatures (at least 160°F or 70°C) to kill any potential Toxoplasma gondii parasites.
  4. Safe Handling Techniques: Minimize rough play with cats to reduce the risk of scratches and bites, which can transmit bacteria like Bartonella henselae.
  5. Regular Veterinary Care: Ensure cats receive routine veterinary check-ups and appropriate parasite prevention treatments to reduce the likelihood of infections.
  6. Vaccination: Ensure your domestic cats are vaccinated against rabies. Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent them from contracting rabies and potentially transmitting it to humans or other animals.
  7. Seek Medical Attention: After being scratched or bitten by a cat, especially if the vaccination status is unknown, seek medical attention promptly. A healthcare professional can assess the risk of rabies transmission and other diseases and recommend post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) if necessary.

Educational Initiatives and Awareness

Given the increasing prevalence of cat-related health issues in Kashmir, it is crucial to launch comprehensive educational campaigns. These initiatives should target pet owners, healthcare providers, and the general public to raise awareness about the risks associated with cat ownership and the importance of preventive measures.

While cats bring companionship and joy to many households, it is essential to recognize and address the potential health risks they pose, particularly concerning fertility and pregnancy. By adopting responsible pet ownership practices and implementing strict hygiene measures, individuals can safeguard their health and well-being, ensuring a safe environment for both themselves and their beloved feline companions.

BY Dr. Abdul Rouf

The author is Public Health Specialist and is presently working at Department of Community Medicine, Government Medical College Srinagar.