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Toxoplasmosis During Pregnancy

Toxoplasmosis 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


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 miscarriage, 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.

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 pregnancy:

Toxoplasmosis is devastating for families.

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