Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection which usually does not present any symptoms in healthy adults. However, it is important to be aware of toxoplasmosis because it can spread from a mother to a child during pregnancy.
What is the cause of toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis is caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii). You can get the infection when you are pregnant if you:
- Handle soil or cat litter that has cat faeces infected with the parasite.
- Eat meat from animals that are infected with the parasite and have not been cooked properly.
- Eat uncooked foods that have come in contact with the contaminated meat.
- Drink contaminated water or raw milk
What are the symptoms of toxoplasmosis?
Generally, you will not have any visible symptoms. Therefore, you will not realize when infected with toxoplasmosis. However, if symptoms do appear, you may experience:
- Muscle aches
- General flu-like symptoms
- Swollen lymph nodes in your neck
How is toxoplasmosis detected?
Even though the risk of being infected with toxoplasmosis is very low, you should ask your doctor for a blood test if:
- You think you are at risk of having caught the infection by eating raw meat or meat not cooking properly.
- You have experienced any of the symptoms listed above.
- You doubt that you may have had the infection earlier in life before pregnancy and your body has developed immunity to it.
If your blood test is negative, it means you have never had toxoplasmosis and are not immune. Therefore, you need to take precautions to avoid any chances of infection during your pregnancy.
If your blood test is positive, you need to follow your doctor’s advice. You may be prescribed medication which reduces the risk of the infection passing from you to your baby.
What are the risks of being infected with toxoplasmosis during pregnancy?
The risks vary, depending on when you become infected in your pregnancy.
- In the early stages of pregnancy, there is risk of:
- Still birth
- Birth defects
- In the later stages of pregnancy:
- You can transmit the infection to your unborn baby through the placenta.
If transmitted, there is a risk of damage to the baby’s brain and eyes leading to blindness in childhood or adulthood.
If you have been infected at least 6-9 months before you conceived, you will develop immunity to toxoplasmosis.
What is the treatment for this infection?
You and your baby need to be constantly monitored by your doctor. The sooner the infection is identified, the greater the chance of preventing the infection from passing to your baby.
If your child becomes infected, it is known as congenital toxoplasmosis. It can be treated in order to make the symptoms of the disease less severe.
What are the ways to prevent toxoplasmosis infection during pregnancy?
You should do the following, to prevent possible infection of toxoplasmosis during pregnancy:
- Do not handle or eat raw meat and undercooked meat.
- Do not drink raw milk.
- Wear gloves if handling cat faeces or soil containing cat litter (garden soil, for instance).
- Wash your hands thoroughly if you come in contact with soil or cat litter.
- Wash hands before preparing food or eating.
- Wash vegetables and fruits thoroughly before eating.
- Wash all utensils and kitchen equipment thoroughly if they come in contact with raw foods.
- Drink boiled water.