Toxoplasma during Pregnancy: Symptoms, Risks and Treatment
The number of women who contract toxoplasma during pregnancy is fairly small and not all of them pass it on to their baby. However, the condition can have far-reaching effects on your pregnancy and unborn child.
Referred to as toxoplasmosis in medical terms, the infection is caused by a microscopic parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. Experts tell us that about 50 per cent of toxoplasmosis infections are caused by eating raw or undercooked infected meat. You may also get the parasite by eating unwashed contaminated produce, drinking contaminated water, or handling contaminated soil, cat litter or meat and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.
What are the symptoms of toxoplasmosis?
Majority of women may be unaware that they have toxoplasma during pregnancy as infected people with healthy immune systems can have no symptoms at all. Signs if any can include:
- Swollen lymph glands
- Mild muscle aches
- A sore throat
- A rash
How will I know if I have toxoplasma during pregnancy?
- Blood test: There is a blood test that can determine whether you have toxoplasmosis currently or even if you have been infected in the past. It is a good idea to talk to your health care provider about being tested before you become pregnant as this is not a routine test. You will need to have this blood test at least three weeks after you may have been infected, as it can take this long for antibodies to appear (Tommy's nd).
- A negative result means you have no antibodies to toxoplasmosis, and you're not immune. You may need to have this test every month or six weeks until your delivery. (NCS 2001)
- Positive results could mean a previous infection, which would mean you are immune, or it could be a recent infection for which you will need treatment. To find out if you have a new toxoplasmosis infection, you'll need another blood test (NHS 2009). (NHS 2009, NSC 2001)
- Amniocentesis: Amniocentesis can also help you determine if your unborn baby is infected. A doctor will extract a sample of your baby's blood from the umbilical cord or a sample of amniotic fluid. The test isn't always completely accurate, and can't show how severely your baby has been affected by toxoplasmosis (BMJ 2009).
- Ultrasound: Sometimes toxoplasmosis is suspected when certain fetal abnormalities are picked up during a prenatal ultrasound, though most infected babies appear normal.
- Baby’s blood test: Your baby can also have a blood test after birth to see if he/she has toxoplasmosis (BMJ 2009). If there are signs of the infection, your baby will be treated with antibiotics.
How can I prevent toxoplasma during pregnancy?
There are several precautions you can take to prevent toxoplasma during pregnancy:
- Cook foods to recommended temperatures. The meat should not look pink and the juices should be clear. Use a food thermometer to ensure that meat is cooked thoroughly.
- Don't eat cured meats like Parma ham and salami during pregnancy.
- Steer clear of unpasteurized milk, as well as cheese and cream that is made from it.Thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables or peel the skin before eating.
- Wash all cutting boards, dishes, utensils, counters and your hands with hot, soapy water after they have come in contact with raw foods.
- Make sure that you wear gloves when gardening or handling soil or sand as it might contain cat feces. Wash hands thoroughly after coming in contact with soil or sand.
- Avoid changing cat litter whenever possible. Otherwise wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly when the task is completed. Keep your cat inside, and do not handle stray or adopted cats. Also, don’t feed your cat raw or undercooked meats.
- If you've been in contact with sheep at farms, or been visiting outdoor play centers where there are animals, wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. Also don't handle newborn lambs while you're pregnant.
What happens if I contract toxoplasma during pregnancy?
- Infection early in the pregnancy is less likely to be transmitted to the baby than infection later in the pregnancy.
- Early infection results in more severe symptoms in the baby than a later one. Although most babies infected during pregnancy may show no sign of toxoplasmosis when they are born, they can develop learning, visual and hearing disabilities later in life.
- Sometimes the infection may result in miscarriage, stillbirth, or death shortly after birth
What is the treatment for toxoplasmosis?
Dr. Jorge L. Gomez earned his Medical Degree in 1990 at Central Del Caribe University in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. Following residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital center in the Bronx, NY (1990–1994), he completed additional fellowship training at New York University Medical Center NY, specializing in Maternal Fetal Medicine (1994-1996). After his fellowship in 1996 he joined South Florida Perinatal Medicine. Dr. Gomez is Board certified in OBGYN and Maternal Fetal Medicine. From 2003–2007 He was a reviewer for the American Journal Of Obstetrics and Gynecology.