Pregnant? You Need a Toxoplasmosis Test
Serious Infection for Infants, Yet Moms Often Don't Show Symptoms
Feb. 8, 2005 - All pregnant women and newborns should be screened for a
serious infection called toxoplasmosis, says one group of researchers.
They say that the majority of women with the infection have no symptoms.
Many don't realize they have been exposed to a parasite that can cause serious
health risks or death to their baby.
Toxoplasmosis develops when a pregnant woman is exposed to the parasite
Toxoplasmosis gondii in cat litter, undercooked meat, or garden soil, writes
lead researcher Kenneth M. Boyer, MD, of Rush University Medical Center in
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.
Boyer's study appears in the February issue of The American Journal of
Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Toxoplasmosis is devastating for families. 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,
"We have medicines that can help if we catch the infection and improve
outcomes if we detect the infection early," says co-researcher Rima McLeod,
MD, professor of ophthalmology and medical director of the Toxoplasmosis Center
at the University of Chicago, in a news release.
Are You a Carrier of Toxoplasmosis?
The CDC reports that more than 60 million people in the U.S. probably carry
the T. gondii parasite but few have symptoms. The immune system usually keeps
the parasite from causing illness. However, if the infection is acquired for
the first time while a woman is pregnant, it can cause crippling diseases in
the newborn or later in life.
In their study, researchers interviewed the mothers of 131 infants with
toxoplasmosis. They asked about the mothers' exposure to undercooked meats, cat
litter, raw eggs, and more.
They also asked mothers about symptoms of infection, such as flu-like
symptoms that include headaches, night sweats, fever, muscle aches, and swollen
In their study, only 8% of mothers were tested for toxoplasmosis during
pregnancy, Boyer notes.
Researchers found that 75% of women who delivered an infant with
toxoplasmosis could recall a conceivable exposure. Only 39% could specifically
recall exposure to cat litter, while 25% could not recall any possible exposure
to cat litter or uncooked meats.
Researchers also say 48% reported symptoms that might have included
toxoplamosis as a cause during pregnancy.
They call for more education of pregnant women on toxoplasmosis. Doctors
should watch carefully for symptoms. Mothers should get blood tests with the
first prenatal visit in the first trimester and monthly afterward. Newborns
should also be tested, writes Boyer.
According to the March of Dimes, pregnant women can take steps to reduce the
chances of becoming infected:
- Don't eat raw or undercooked meats.
- Wash hands after handling raw meats.
- Don't empty or clean the cat litter box - have someone else do it.
- Keep cats indoors to prevent them from being exposed.
- Wear gloves when gardening to avoid contact with soil that may be