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Toxoplasmosis and pregnancy

What is toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a microbe called Toxoplasma gondii. You can get infected from eating undercooked meat or touching cat poop or a litter box. Although it is a common parasite, very few people have symptoms because a healthy immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing an infection.  However, toxoplasmosis can cause health problems to pregnant women and their babies.

How do you get infected?

If you get in contact with the parasite while:

  1. Eating raw or undercooked meat or shellfish
  2. Eating unwashed fruit and vegetables or using utensils that have been used to cut unwashed or raw food
  3. Touching cat litter or cat poop
  4. Petting stray cats
  5. Touching dirt or sand

Signs and symptoms of toxoplasmosis

It usually doesn’t cause any symptoms, that is why people who have the disease may not know they have it. 

But other people have reported flu-like symptoms such as:

  1. Fever 
  2. Aching muscles
  3. Sore throat
  4. Swollen glands
  5. Blurry vision

If you are pregnant and presenting some of the above symptoms it doesn’t mean for sure that you are infected by toxoplasma, but you should definitely pay a visit to your doctor for an examination.

How does toxoplasmosis affect pregnancy?

If a woman is affected by the disease before or during her pregnancy, she may pass it on to the baby too, even if not having any symptoms. The risk of passing the infection to the baby depends on how far along in the pregnancy the woman was while she was infected. The later it is (third trimester), the more likely it is that the baby will also get infected. 

But the earlier in pregnancy you get infected, the more serious the baby’s problems may be after birth. For example, babies could have damage to the liver, brain and eyes, and 50% of those who are infected with toxoplasmosis during the pregnancy are born early (preterm). 

How can the doctor diagnose if the baby is infected by toxoplasmosis?

  • Amniocentesis. An amniocentesis can test the fluid around the baby for infection.  You can get this test at 15 to 20 weeks of pregnancy. It also can be tested for other problems with the baby, like birth defects or genetic problems.
  • Ultrasound. About 1 in 3 babies infected with toxoplasmosis have a problem that can be seen on an ultrasound. Most pregnant women get an ultrasound in their second trimester at 18 to 20 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Blood test. Baby’s blood can be tested for toxoplasmosis after birth.

Is toxoplasmosis treatable?

If you are infected during your pregnancy there are certain antibiotics that can help reduce the risk of the fetus to be infected too. Always consult with your doctor for the best course of action.

Do indoor cats carry toxoplasmosis?

It is unusual for indoor cats to carry toxoplasmosis, especially if they are taken care of correctly by their owners. What you can do for your favorite pet and for you to be safe, is to always feed it with commercial dry or canned food, never raw meat, and keep it indoors so to not get in contact with other stray animals. 

Having a pet around the house may be a great asset for your future child, but you should be careful to set boundaries and take care of the animals in the correct way.

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Toxoplasmosis and pregnancy