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Pregnancy and Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite called Toxoplasmagondii that can threaten the health of an unborn child. You can get the infection from handling soil or cat litter that contains cat feces infected with the parasite. You can also get it from eating undercooked meat from animals infected with the parasite or from uncooked foods that have come in contact with contaminated meat. If you have been infected with Toxoplasma once, you usually will not become infected again.

What Are the Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis?

Because the majority of people with toxoplasmosis have no symptoms, it may be difficult to know if you have been infected. When symptoms do appear, they can resemble the flu and include fever, muscle aches, fatigue, and swollen lymph glands.

How Can I Find Out if I Have Toxoplasmosis?

A blood test is available that can show whether you currently have toxoplasmosis or if you have been infected in the past. Since this test is not routinely done, you may want to talk to your health care provider about being tested before you become pregnant.

If I Had Toxoplasmosis Before Becoming Pregnant, Is My Unborn Baby At Risk?

With rare exception, women who have been infected at least 6-9 months before conception develop immunity to toxoplasmosis and do not pass it on to their baby.

What Can Happen if I Have Toxoplasmosis During My Pregnancy?

Approximately one-half of women infected with toxoplasmosis can transmit the infection across the placenta to their unborn baby. 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. Most babies infected during pregnancy show no sign of toxoplasmosis when they are born, but they may develop learning, visual, and hearing disabilities later in life.

How Can I Tell if My Baby Has Been Infected With Toxoplasmosis?

If you have toxoplasmosis infection during your pregnancy, there are several ways to check if your baby has been infected:

  • The fluid around the fetus or the fetal blood can be tested for infection.
  • About a third of infected babies have a problem that may be visible on an ultrasound.
  • The baby's blood can be tested after birth.

Can Toxoplasmosis Be Treated During Pregnancy?

Yes. The toxoplasmosis can be treated during pregnancy with antibiotics. The earlier the infection is identified and treated, the greater the chance of preventing infection of the unborn child. If the child has already been infected, treatment can make the disease less severe. The baby can be treated with drugs that are taken throughout the first year of life, and in some cases even longer.

What Can I Do to Prevent Toxoplasmosis?

  • Cook foods at safe temperatures and use a food thermometer to ensure that meat is cooked thoroughly. The meat should not look pink and the juices should be clear.
  • Peel or thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables before eating.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, counters, utensils and hands with hot, soapy water after they have come in contact with raw foods.
  • Wear gloves when gardening and during any contact with soil or sand, because it might contain cat feces. Wash hands thoroughly after coming in contact with soil or sand.
  • Avoid changing cat litter if possible. If you must do it, wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterward. Have someone change the litter box daily, keep your cat inside, and do not handle stray or adopted cats. Do not feed your cat raw or undercooked meats.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Mikio A. Nihira, MD on July 06, 2012

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