What is it?

Toxoplasma are bacteria that is carried in the faeces of infected animals. It is relatively common in cats. Cat faeces contaminate the soil and this causes toxoplasmosis to infect animals, including humans who eat vegetation growing in this soil. Cats are re-infected by eating infected rodents and birds. Humans can also be infected by eating raw/undercooked meats. e.g. salami etc

Why is it dangerous?

In non-pregnant people the symptoms of toxoplasmosis are usually quite mild and treatment is seldom necessary. Infection seems to confer a lifelong immunity and so about 80% of people are likely to be immune to it.

Getting toxoplasmosis for the first time when you are pregnant is likely to be more serious. Toxoplasmosis infection can cause miscarriage or brain damage in your developing baby.

Reducing the risks

  • Do not empty your cat’s litter tray. If you can’t get someone else to do this you should wear disposable gloves and/or wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
  • Wear gloves whenever you are gardening and make sure that other members of your family/household also wear gloves when gardening or thoroughly wash their hands afterwards.
  • Make sure that you and other family members, especially young children, wash your/their hands thoroughly after playing in sandpits etc.
  • Wash your hands or your children’s hands after they have petted other people’s cats or dogs
  • Wash homegrown vegetables thoroughly before eating.
  • Do not eat raw or undercooked meats.


Pregnant women may be exposed to many other substances in their homes and workplaces that are potentially teratogenic (a substance that has a harmful effect on the growth of an unborn baby).

There have been very few studies into the safety of common chemicals and the studies that have been conducted look at substances in isolation from each other. At home and in your workplace you may be exposed to several substances that on their own pose very little threat, but in combination can endanger the health of your unborn baby.

We therefore recommend that pregnant women (especially during the first 8 – 12 weeks of pregnancy) try to minimize their exposure to substances containing solvents.

What are solvents?

Solvents are chemicals that can dissolve other materials. They usually do this without changing their chemical structure or that of the substance/s they are dissolving or dispersing.

Why are they dangerous?

Solvents are very easily absorbed through our lungs and skin. They easily enter your bloodstream and circulate throughout your body. They readily pass through your placenta and into your growing baby’s body.

These days when we hear the word “organic” we usually think that it describes something that is healthy and free from man-made chemicals. However in the case of solvents, those that are described as organic (meaning the solvent contains carbon atoms) are usually the most potentially dangerous. Alcohols (CH3OH) are a very common form of organic solvent whereas water (H20 – no carbon) is an inorganic solvent.

Most solvents have a strong smell that pregnant women usually find unpleasant and/or nauseating. Because solvents are soluble in the blood, the longer you are exposed to them the harder it is to smell them e.g. if you walk into a room that has been recently painted you can usually smell the paint immediately but after you have been in the room for a while you no longer notice the smell.

Some common substances that you might use at home or at work that often contain solvents include:-

Paints, varnish and wood stain, turpentine, lighter fluid, drycleaning fluids, paint stripper, disinfectants, nail polish remover, degreasers (e.g. oven cleaner), petrol, furniture oils, polishes, wax, shoe cleaning products, stain removers, carpet and upholstery cleaners, glues/adhesives, aerosol sprays (e.g. fly and insect spray), hair dyes and hair styling products, make-up, sunblock and suntan lotion, perfumes, dyes, polymers, plastics, textiles, printing inks, photographic chemicals, agricultural products, and pharmaceuticals.

Some words that indicate the presence of organic solvents in a product include:

Benzene, carbon tetrachloride, chlorinated solvents, diethyl or dimethyl phthalate, methylene chloride, paradichlorobenzene, perchloroethylene (or tetrachloroethylene), petroleum distillates, phenol, toluene (mineral spirits), 1,1,1 trichloroethane, xylene


The good news is that there are an increasing number of household cleaners and cosmetics that are free from these harmful chemicals. Read the labels on the household cleaners and cosmetics before you buy them and swap to those that do not contain organic solvents.

If your work exposes you to high levels of solvent(s) you may want to consider changing your job before you try to become pregnant. Your employer is obliged to find you work in an area that will not expose your developing baby to known risks.

If you cannot avoid exposure to products containing solvents you should make sure that the space you are in is very well ventilated and wear a face mask (one with an organic vapor cartridge is best in a workplace situation), gloves and clothing to protect your skin.