DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am pregnant for the first time. I have two cats, which I have had for five years. Last night, my mother called me in a panic. She said I have to get rid of the cats because they could give me toxoplasmosis, and it could affect the baby. I know other pregnant women who have cats, and my doctor hasn’t said anything about this to me. Is there a true danger here? My husband rolled his eyes when I told him. – N.W.

It’s not true that you have to get rid of your cats.

Toxoplasmosis is a parasite-caused cat illness, and humans can catch it. When cats expel the parasite in their feces and if humans come in contact with the feces, they can catch the parasite. The parasite penetrates the walls of the digestive tract and is carried from there to many organs – lymph nodes, muscles, eye, brain, heart, lung and liver. About 90 percent of those infected never have a single symptom. Some 10 percent have a mononucleosislike illness with fever, swollen neck nodes and a “blah” feeling. Women infected during pregnancy can pass the parasite to the fetus. The result can be a miscarriage or mental retardation in the developing fetus.

Cats aren’t the only source of toxoplasmosis infection. People can get it from undercooked meat and from unwashed fruits and vegetables.

Cats are infectious only for two weeks after they catch the parasite. If your cats are housecats and eat only canned or packaged foods, they’re not likely to be infected now or to have ever been infected.

All the same, pregnant women should play things safe by having others clean cats’ litter boxes. If the woman must do so, she should wear gloves and wash her hands after cleaning the box. A daily change of litter reduces the chances of infection, because it takes 24 hours for the parasite to become infectious. Pregnant women should wash fruits and vegetables with gloved hands and never eat undercooked meat. In fact, everyone should do these things. Pregnancy is not the greatest time to take in a stray cat.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have arthritis. I have developed trouble with my eyes, and the eye doctor says I have arthritis of the eyes. She gave me eyedrops to use. I have never heard of arthritis of the eyes. Is this believable? – D.A.

It’s quite believable, but also quite rare.

You have the more uncommon kind of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis. It’s an inflammatory illness, and a systemic one. “Systemic” means it affects the whole body. It can strike blood vessels, lungs and the heart in addition to joints. And it can involve the eyes. They become inflamed. Treatment is cortisone eyedrops.

Less than 1 percent of rheumatoid arthritis patients have eye involvement. Apparently it happened to you.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Do raisins soaked in gin provide any relief for arthritis? My husband has arthritis, and so does a close friend of mine. The friend told me about the raisins. She says since she’s been taking them, her life has turned around. What do you think? – L.V.

This is a remedy with a long history. There is no evidence to support the statement that gin-soaked raisins benefit any kind of arthritis.

I can’t explain your friend’s success.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a senior who had a successful cataract operation last year. Shortly after the surgery, a large floater developed in one of my eyes. The floater moves when I move my head or eyes. Although my ophthalmologist answered many of my questions, it didn’t occur to me to ask if I should be concerned about the floater possibly tearing the retina. Is that possible? – C.D.

Floaters are deposits in the vitreous, a gel that fills the back of the eyeball. They “float” in the vitreous and cast a shadow on the retina. The person sees those shadows as black spots. Floaters move with eye or head motion.

They don’t damage the retina in any way.

A sudden shower of floaters can be a sign that the retina is detaching for some other reason.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have been diagnosed with rosacea. I want to know if it affects the eyes. I have styes on my lids, and heavy, red lumps. Is this part of rosacea? Any treatment? – S.S.

What most think of as being only a skin condition can affect the eyes, and does so for 50 percent of rosacea patients. The eyes burn and feel gritty and dry. Lids often are covered with crusts. Styes and red bumps (hordeolum) can form on the lid margins and on the lid surfaces adjacent to the eye. Some people have eye involvement without skin involvement. That’s unusual, but it happens.

Gentle lid cleansing with a cotton-tipped applicator wetted with a solution of half water and half baby shampoo frees the lid margins of any crusts. Warm compresses bring sties to a head and encourage their drainage. An eye doctor is the one best suited to take care of hordeolums. They may have to be removed. And the doctor might prescribe antibiotic eyedrops or ointments. Artificial tears keep the eye moist.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from www

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