Toxoplasmosis during Pregnancy
is caused by a tiny parasite [protozoan] that spends part of its lifecycle in
animals and the rest in humans. It is a common infection caused by the
one-celled organism Toxoplasma gondii.
According to a recent research all pregnant women and newborns should be
screened for a serious infection called toxoplasmosis. A pregnant woman has
about a 40% chance of passing the infection to her unborn child, according to
the March of Dimes. Only about 10% of infants with severe infections show signs
of toxoplasmosis at birth. Many infected infants may not show signs until months
or years later.
All pregnant women and newborns should be screened for a serious
infection called toxoplasmosis.
Sources of Infection
Toxoplasmosis develops when a pregnant woman is exposed to the parasite
Toxoplasmosis gondii in
Cat litter-Toxoplasma gondii is most easily spread in egg form; eggs can
only grow in a cat's intestinal tract. Once Toxoplasma gondii eggs are
excreted in a cat's feces, they become infectious after 1 to 5 days
Undercooked meat such as beef, chicken, and particularly pork or eggs
that are infected with the parasite. You can get the infection by touching
your hands to your mouth, nose, or eyes after handling uncooked meat or by
eating food that's been contaminated by utensils or a cutting board that
came into contact with uncooked meat.
Garden soil, that is eating unwashed garden vegetables (grown in an area
where an infected cat has left feces).
Most infected women show no symptoms at all, so you may never know whether you
were infected or not. Some have mild flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills,
headache, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue, swollen lymph glands, and possibly
a rash within one to three weeks after being exposed. If you think you may have
the disease, call your doctor or midwife.
Blood testing for detecting past or recent exposure to this parasite is
available, but is not routinely done. If you are not tested and you don't know
if you're immune or not, or if testing does not show immunity from previous
infection, you can still take steps to protect yourself and your unborn child.
In acute infection, IgG and IgM antibody levels generally rise within one to two
weeks of infection.
If your test results suggest that you got toxoplasmosis while pregnant, your
practitioner will first treat you with an antibiotic that's thought to reduce
your risk of transmitting the disease to your baby. You'll then have an
amniocentesis to determine if your baby has the infection. (The lab will do a
special DNA test on your amniotic fluid to check for the presence of the
toxoplasmosis parasite.) You'll also have a series of ultrasounds throughout
your pregnancy to look for any abnormalities in your developing baby.
If your amniotic fluid shows that your baby has been infected or an
ultrasound shows a problem, you can consult a genetic counselor about the risks
to your baby. Depending on your baby's gestational age, you'll be given the
option to end the pregnancy. If you continue the pregnancy, you'll be given
other antibiotics to take after you're about 20 weeks to reduce the risk of
problems for your baby.
Effect of toxoplasmosis on the fetus
The fetal immune system is unable to defend against Toxoplasma gondii. Fetal
infection can only develop when a woman with no immunity becomes infected with
Toxoplasma gondii during pregnancy or up to 8 weeks before conceiving. Fetal
toxoplasmosis, particularly in early pregnancy, can cause
stillbirth, and birth defects. Possible problems include impaired vision,
hearing damage, enlargement of the liver and spleen, jaundice, and pneumonia
The majority of infected infants have no deformities at birth, but without
treatment, most will develop serious eye and brain damage and die from massive
infection by the end of adolescence
During pregnancy, toxoplasmosis is treated with antibiotics.
A woman who is newly infected during pregnancy is treated to reduce the
risk of severe fetal infection.
If fetal infection is diagnosed, additional antibiotics are given to the
mother, and the infant is also given antibiotic treatment after birth.
If a fetus is infected early in pregnancy and is diagnosed with brain
damage, terminating the pregnancy is considered a reasonable medical option.
Avoiding toxoplasmosis during pregnancy
Here are some tips to help you avoid exposure to toxoplasmosis during your
Do not allow your cat to go outside your home where it may come into
contact with toxoplasma. If possible, have someone else take care of your
cat while you are pregnant.
Have another family member change the cat litter box and then disinfect it
with boiling water for 5 minutes.
If you must handle the chore of changing the litter box, wear rubber
gloves to avoid contact with the litter and wash your hands thoroughly
Use work gloves when gardening and wash your hands afterwards. Cover
children's sandboxes when not in use (cats like to use them as litter
Control flies and cockroaches as much as possible. They can spread
contaminated soil or cat feces onto food.
Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat (or poultry) and unwashed fruits
and vegetables. Eat only well-cooked or previously frozen meat, avoid dried
Wash your hands thoroughly before you eat and after handling raw meat,
seafood, fruits, vegetables, soil, sand or cats.
Avoid rubbing your eyes or face when preparing food, and wipe the
counter clean afterwards.
Avoid eating raw eggs and drinking unpasteurized milk.
Health education for women of childbearing age should include
information about preventing T.gondii transmission from food and soil. At
the first prenatal visit, health care providers should educate pregnant
women about food hygiene and avoiding exposure to cat feces.
Toxoplasmosis is devastating for families.
Dated 29 November 2011