DEAR ABBY: The letter from "Pet Peeved in Martinez, Calif." -- whose problem was having too many dogs and cats to care for, with very little help from her husband -- got my attention. She mentioned the fact that she is pregnant.
I am writing in the hope that you can help "Pet Peeved" avert a potential disaster for her unborn child. I am a special educator. I work with children who are mentally retarded, from a variety of causes.
Pregnant women should not care for cats. They should especially avoid cleaning litter boxes, because they can unknowingly contract a disease called toxoplasmosis from doing so. (Cats can carry this disease.)
Toxoplasmosis probably won't make the mother noticeably sick, but the damage it can cause to her unborn child is devastating. The problems for the child can range from learning disorders, hearing or vision impairments, to severe retardation, deafness and blindness, or even all of these in combination.
Toxoplasmosis can also be transmitted to the unborn child if the mother eats improperly prepared shellfish such as shrimp, lobster, oysters, etc. (It is wise to avoid these foods during pregnancy.)
I hope my letter will encourage "Pet Peeved's" husband to either care for the pets or find them another home. I also hope this information will alert other expectant mothers to be more careful in the care of their pets, and in their diets. -- BELLE AAKHUS, SPECIAL EDUCATION, BEMIDJI, MINN.
DEAR BELLE: Thank you for your important message to expectant mothers. Your letter reminded me that I had printed a letter about toxoplasmosis eight years ago. It was from a nurse-educator who wanted to alert expectant mothers that the protozoa (toxoplasma gondii) are also found in raw and undercooked meat; therefore they should be sure to cook all meats thoroughly.
Pregnant women should have routine checkups during their pregnancy, and check with their health-care professional concerning this and other diseases that might endanger their unborn child.