What is toxoplasmosis?Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a small parasite that lives in cats. You can get infected with the parasite via cat feces. (BMJ 2013, NHS 2013a, Nayeri 2013).
But you can also come into contact with the parasite over soil that has been contaminated with cat feces. Remember when doing gardening. (NHS 2013a, Nayeri 2013, Tommy's 2013).
If you have or had a cat, you may already have come into contact with the pathogen. Then you could be immune to toxoplasmosis.
In addition, you may become infected in the following ways:
- When eating raw, smoked or half-cooked meat
- About kitchen utensils used to process raw, smoked or half-cooked meat.
- When drinking unpasteurised goat's milk or eating goat's cheese from this milk.
- Eating Unwashed Fruit or Unwashed Fruit (NHS 2013a, Nayeri 2013, Tommy's 2013)
Toxoplasmosis usually goes unnoticed, but getting it for the first time during pregnancy can have serious consequences, One study found that only five out of every 1,000 pregnant women (who had never been infected before) were infected with toxoplasmosis. (NHS 2013b).
Does toxoplasmosis harm my unborn child?It is good to know that the likelihood of toxoplasmosis during pregnancy is rather low. However, toxoplasmosis can be very dangerous to an unborn child if it occurs. In the early stages of pregnancy, it can lead to miscarriage (Di Mario 2013, Nayeri 2013, NHS 2013c, Tommy's 2013).
If a pregnant woman becomes infected with toxoplasmosis, her child may develop hydrocephalus (formerly known as a hydrocephalus) or suffer brain damage. It could also damage the eyes or other organs of the baby. (Di Mario 2013, Nayeri 2013, NHS 2013c, Tommy's 2013).
Some babies who have been damaged by toxoplasmosis do not show any noticeable signs after birth. But over the next few months or years, they may develop the following symptoms:
- Eye damage
- Hearing problems
- Learning disabilities (BMJ 2013, Di Mario 2013, Nayeri 2013, NHS 2013c, Tommy's 2013)
Like Do I know that I have toxoplasmosis?You can be completely symptom free if you have toxoplasmosis. However, the following symptoms may occur:
- swollen lymph nodes in the head and neck area
- muscle pain
- common flu-like symptoms (NHS 2013b, Nayeri 2013)
May I to test for toxoplasmosis?If you are worried about a possible toxoplasmosis infection during your pregnancy, you should talk to your doctor about a blood test.
The test detects antibodies, which are proteins that your body produces to fight toxoplasmosis. (NHS 2013d, Nayeri 2013).
These antibodies do not form immediately and are therefore not detectable in the blood test until two or three weeks after infection. (NHS 2013d, Nayeri 2013).
If the blood test is negative, it means that you have never had toxoplasmosis and therefore no immunity. Since it takes a few weeks for the antibodies to appear after exposure to the virus, your doctor may have the test repeated for safety's sake. (NHS 2013d, Nayeri 2013, Tommy's 2013).
If the blood test is positive, there are antibodies in your blood. Most of the time this means you have already come into contact with toxoplasmosis and have developed immunity. Thus, toxoplasmosis is no danger to your baby. In a few cases, however, it is said that you have been infected with toxoplasmosis during your pregnancy, which is a risk to your baby (NHS 2013d, Tommy's 2013).
To find out if the infection took place a long time ago or up-to-date, you need another blood test (NHS 2013d).
You can also find out directly if your unborn baby is infected. The test is called amniocentesis. Your doctor will need to take a sample of the amniotic fluid. However, amniocentesis also carries a very low risk of miscarriage. Your doctor (s) and midwife can help you weigh the risks against the benefits and decide whether to have an amniocentesis or not (BMJ 2013, NHS 2013d).
Your baby may also be given a blood test after birth to see if it has toxoplasmosis. If there are signs of the infection, your child may be treated with antibiotics (BMJ 2013, NHS 2013d).
What is the treatment for toxoplasmosis?
If you become infected with toxoplasmosis for the first time during your pregnancy, your doctor may suggest antibiotic treatment. This can prevent your child from getting infected. Most of the antibiotics spiramycin, pyrimethamine and sulfadiazine are used, but others are also in use (BMJ 2013, Hotop 2012, Nayeri 2013, NHS 2013e, Pacquet 2013).Presumably you need advice and moral support to decide what to do. Your doctor and your midwife will certainly advise you.
How Can I Prevent Toxoplasmosis?
You can protect yourself from infection with toxoplasmosis with a few simple precautions.For food:
Wash your hands before cooking or preparing food.After cooking, wash your hands again and thoroughly clean all cooking utensils and surfaces.
- Wash fruits and vegetables very thoroughly, especially if you eat them raw - including prewashed salads.
- Cook or fry meat and chilled or frozen ready meals before you eat them.
- Do not drink milk that has not been pasteurized, drink or eat anything from unpasteurised goat's milk.
- (NHS 2013f, Nayeri 2013, NICE 2008, Tommy's 2013) Wear gloves when working in the garden or dealing with sand and earth. Then wash your hands thoroughly in case you have come in contact with Katzenkot. If your child has a sandbox, cover it well so cats do not use it as a litter box (NHS 2013f, Tommy's 2013).
Other livestock can also spread toxoplasmosis. If you have been in contact with sheep on a farm or have visited petting zoos or similar, you should pay particular attention to thorough hand washing. Avoid contact with newborn lambs while you are pregnant (NHS 2013g).
If you have a cat yourself, someone else should take care of the litter box for the duration of your pregnancy. If it is unavoidable to empty the litter box, wear gloves and wash your hands afterwards. Also make sure that the litter box is emptied daily (Nayeri 2013, NHS 2013f, Tommy's 2013) because the litter box parasite takes at least a day to develop and become contagious.
You can read more about toxoplasmosis at the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment: Consumer tips: Protection against toxoplasmosis.
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Toxoplasmosis and pregnancy Tommy's the baby charity. Show sources Hide sources