Toxoplasmosis a Hidden Danger in Garden Soil.

GPotted plant(78738)Credit: Samantha DeWittardening is not just a passion for me, it’s a livelihood. I run a small container gardening blog, as well as raising vegetables to supplement my family’s groceries. So when I became pregnant, I thought that my pregnancy and my passion for gardening would be compatible. After all, the cute little overalls for pregnant women look exactly like my gardening overalls.

To my surprise, my doctor recommended that I give the gardening a rest, right along with painting the baby’s room and eating certain foods. Although he had a few concerns about pesticides and strain on my back from working, he was more concerned about a single-celled parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which causes a disease called Toxoplasmosis.

The parasite that causes the disease is often found in animal feces, particularly cats. This is why health practitioners caution pregnant women not to change pet litter. Healthy adults may get toxoplasmosis and fight it off without ever realizing that they have it. At most, an infected person will have mild flu-like symptoms.

But in people with compromised immune systems – such as the elderly, persons with AIDS, undergoing chemotherapy, who have recently had an organ transplant or pregnant women – toxoplasmosis is more severe. Worse yet, toxoplasmosis can infect an unborn baby through the placenta.  Congenital toxoplasmosis can cause developmental ManureCredit: Petr Kratochvildefects, fetal death or miscarriage. 

The reason that my doctor frowned on gardening is that garden soil often has cat feces in it.  Even if you don’t have any cats yourself, all that freshly tilled earth may look like a giant litter box for stray cats.  And even if you can keep the cats out of your garden, there is still a chance that Toxoplasma gondii will find its way into the soil through fertilizer.

  • If you do insist on gardening while pregnant, take the following precautions
  • Wear solid gardening gloves and shoes with socks while gardening.
  •  Avoid touching your mouth or eyes without first washing your hands with soap and water.
  • Wash all vegetables that you harvest from the garden completely to remove all soil and potential parasites before preparing your food (since the parasite may also be in raw meat, you should also thoroughly cook your food throughout your pregnancy as well).
  • Water your garden before working in it. This will help you to avoid kicking up dust (and any disease spores present in the soil).

Washing vegetablesCredit: Peter GriffinAs for me, I am considering just sticking with my container garden this year. I can use pre-made grow bags or fill new, sterilized pots with a soil free potting mix that contains no fertilizer (always check the label) and use a time-release pelleted fertilizer.  Even with these precautions, I plan to wear gloves and a breathing mask. Because one can never be too careful.