Toxoplasmosis is an infection that usually does not produce serious symptoms in people who have a healthy immune system. In fact, many of them will have passed the disease without realizing it.
However, toxoplasmosis is of particular importance in pregnant women, as it can seriously affect the fetus and/or placenta, even causing miscarriage.
For these reasons, to avoid the risk of infection during pregnancy, specialists recommend following special hygiene and dietary guidelines.
Provided below is an index with the 8 points we are going to expand on in this article.
What is toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease caused by the protozoan called Toxoplasma gondii.
Normally, it is cats that contract this disease by ingesting feces or meat from other contaminated animals. The parasite then reproduces in your intestine and ends up in your feces.
In a matter of days, this parasite becomes infectious and is resistant to most disinfectants. Therefore, it is able to live in the soil if the temperature and humidity conditions are optimal for it.
It is important to know that infected cats usually appear to be healthy.
A parasite is an organism that lives at the expense of another organism of a different species (the host), feeding on it while weakening it, but without killing it.
How is it diagnosed?
It should be noted that toxoplasmosis is not spread by direct contact with cats. As mentioned above, the parasite is transmitted through their feces. Therefore, it is important that pregnant women do not handle cat feces.
In addition, it is advisable to keep an eye on these animals in case you have them at home so that they cannot eat raw meat (birds or mice) or be in contact with other stray cats.
Other routes of toxoplasmosis infection include the following:
- Eating raw or undercooked meats contaminated with the parasite.
- Eating contaminated and poorly washed vegetables that have been in contact with contaminated soil in which infected animals may have defecated.
- Drinking contaminated water or unpasteurized raw milk.
- Blood transfusion from an infected individual to a healthy individual.
- Vertical transmission: the pregnant mother transmits the parasites to the fetus through the placenta.
Toxoplasmosis is a very common human infection worldwide. However, in most cases, it goes unnoticed because its symptoms are very similar to the flu.
The most common symptoms of toxoplasmosis, which will only occur once in a lifetime, are as follows:
- Slight swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck with no pain
- Headache and muscle pain
- Sore throat and fever
Normally, the parasite remains inside the body indefinitely without causing discomfort, since it remains inactive if the immune system is functioning properly.
Pregnant women may present these same symptoms or even none at all, but the severity of the infection poses the risk of transmitting it to the fetus.
In addition to pregnant women, other people who should be especially careful with toxoplasmosis are those who are immunocompromised, such as AIDS patients.
Risks in pregnancy
If the woman has had toxoplasmosis 6 to 9 months before becoming pregnant, she will already be immunized and there will be no risk of transmission to the fetus.
The problems come when a woman contracts the infection for the first time during pregnancy or a few months before. In this case, the probability of transmitting toxoplasmosis to the fetus is greater the more advanced the gestation:
- First trimester
- 15% risk of transmission.
- Second trimester
- 30% risk of transmission.
- Third trimester
- 60% risk of transmission.
However, the severity of infection in the fetus will be greatest in the earliest stages of pregnancy, i.e., in the first trimester. The reason for this is that the parasite invades the cells and causes lesions in the developing fetal tissues.
The toxoplasmosis parasite can pass from the mother to the fetus through the placenta.
In order to take the necessary measures against toxoplasmosis or to avoid its infection, it is very important that pregnant women take a blood test at the beginning of pregnancy.
As we have said, if the woman has already passed toxoplasmosis, there will be no risk of infection. On the other hand, if you are not immunized, you will need to take the preventive measures discussed below.
How does it affect the baby?
In case of infection of the fetus during pregnancy, the consequences can range from mild to severe. In the first trimester, miscarriage may occur and, in the most severe cases, the death of the baby before birth or shortly after birth.
Babies born with the infection will have what is known as congenital toxoplasmosis congenital toxoplasmosis. Some of the alterations associated with this pathology are the following:
- Low birth weight.
- Visual disturbances or blindness
- Decreased hearing ability
- Jaundice (yellowish skin and eyes)
- Skin rashes
- Lymph node enlargement
- Motor disorders
- Mental retardation
- Learning disabilities
- Stroke attacks
Most infants with congenital toxoplasmosis have none of these symptoms at birth, especially those infected late in pregnancy. However, serious problems may appear months or even years after the baby is born.
Prevention of toxoplasmosis
All women who are pregnant or who intend to become pregnant soon should follow preventive measures to avoid contracting the toxoplasmosis parasite.
The guidelines to follow throughout pregnancy, especially when cooking, are as follows:
- Wash hands with soap before and after handling food, especially raw meat.
- Do not touch eyes, nose or mouth with dirty hands.
- Wash kitchen counters, cutting boards and all utensils used after contact with raw meat, poultry and seafood with hot soapy water.
- Avoid gardening work due to contact with soil where an infected cat may have defecated.
- Use disposable gloves if there are wounds on the hands for cooking or contact with another possible source of exposure.
- Keep food away from flies.
By following these recommendations, it is possible to reduce the risk of infection by up to 60%.
Pregnant women should follow a special diet and take care of their diet throughout pregnancy for the proper development of the baby, but also to avoid toxoplasmosis. We will now discuss some dietary recommendations:
- Freeze the meat a few days before cooking.
- Make the meat very well done, since the toxoplasma parasite dies at 72ºC.
- Do not eat salt-cured or smoked meat, such as ham or salami. They can be eaten on a baked pizza.
- Do not eat sausages that have not been cooked.
- Do not drink raw milk or eggs.
- Drinking bottled water.
- Wash and sanitize fruits and vegetables well with products suitable for food hygiene.
Measures for domestic cats
Living with cats during pregnancy is not forbidden, although special care is necessary.
First of all, it would be advisable to check the cat's state of health at the veterinarian. If the cat is healthy, it is important that from now on its diet is exclusively based on special cat food and make sure that it does not eat raw meat.
It would also be ideal if someone else would be in charge of cleaning the cat, especially the litter box. It should be emptied daily because the parasite cysts in the stool are infectious after 24 hours.
It is very unlikely that the cat has parasites in its fur. However, it is always a good idea to wash your hands after playing with them and especially before handling food.
Finally, it is important to prevent the cat from entering the kitchen or living room during meal times.
FAQs from users
What are the risks of detecting toxoplasmosis in pregnancy?
Toxoplasmosis is a protozoan called toxoplasma gondii that can affect the newborn through the transplacental route. Depending on the stage at which the infection occurs, so will be its consequences.
If a woman becomes infected with toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, the more advanced the pregnancy is, the more likely it is that the infection will be transmitted to the fetus.
However, if the parasite is transmitted during the first trimester of pregnancy, the consequences are more serious.
Transmission can be prevented by following simple hygiene and dietary guidelines during the months of pregnancy.
Is there any treatment for toxoplasmosis during pregnancy?
Yes, pregnant women who have been infected with toxoplasmosis should take the antibiotic Spiramycin to reduce the probability of transmission to the fetus. On the other hand, in case the fetus is also affected, the appropriate treatment will be Pyrimethamine and Sulfadiazine to reduce the damage to the baby.
After birth, the baby will have to continue with the treatment for at least one year.
How is the diagnosis of toxoplasmosis in the fetus?
To find out if the fetus has been infected with the parasite, an amniocentesis will be necessary. This test will be performed whenever possible if the mother has the disease.
On the other hand, several ultrasound examinations will also be carried out to visualize if there are fetal anomalies.
¿La toxoplasmosis es una causa de aborto recurrente?
Although in the past this type of infection was associated with repeat miscarriage, today it is no longer included in the battery of infertility tests. It is true that toxoplasmosis can cause miscarriage or fetal death, but once the woman has been immunized, there is no longer a risk for future pregnancies.
Other types of infections such as chlamydia, for example, do cause recurrent miscarriages.
As we have said, it is very important for pregnant women to take care of their health to avoid any risks during the entire pregnancy. If you want to know all the details about this, you can continue reading here: Health in pregnancy.
The prenatal amniocentesis test provides information on whether the fetus has been infected with toxoplasma. To learn more about this test, we recommend you to click here: What is amniocentesis?
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More information about Cristina Algarra Goosman