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Food Poisoning During Pregnancy - Topic Overview

Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. A pregnant woman can give toxoplasmosis to her fetus. Fetal toxoplasmosis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and birth defects.

You can acquire the parasite by accidentally swallowing Toxoplasma gondii eggs from soil or other contaminated surfaces. This can happen by putting your hands to your mouth after gardening, cleaning a cat's litter box, or touching anything that has come into contact with cat feces.

Toxoplasmosis often has no symptoms, or the symptoms are flu-like. You may have swollen lymph glands or muscle aches and pains that last for a few days to several weeks.

If you:

  • Are planning to become pregnant, consider being tested for Toxoplasma gondii. If the test is positive, it means that you have already been infected at some time in your life and you probably do not have to worry about giving the infection to your future baby (discuss this with your doctor). If the test is negative, take precautions to avoid infection.
  • If you are pregnant, you and your doctor should discuss your chance of getting toxoplasmosis. Your doctor may order a blood sample for testing.

If you are diagnosed with toxoplasmosis during your pregnancy, you will be treated with antibiotics. If further testing shows that your fetus is infected, you will be given antibiotics that are known to reduce the impact of toxoplasmosis on the fetus.

To help prevent toxoplasmosis:

  • Avoid cat feces, in both the home and the garden.
    • If you have a cat and you are either pregnant or planning to become pregnant soon, have someone else clean the cat litter box. If you must clean the box yourself, do it daily. Wear gloves and a face mask, and wash your hands afterward.
    • Make a habit of washing any table or counter surfaces that a cat may have walked across.
    • Consider keeping your cat indoors. A cat who goes outdoors is likely to become infected with Toxoplasma gondii by eating infected birds or rodents. (Eating indoor mice also poses a risk.)
    • When gardening or handling soil, wear gloves and wash your hands afterward.
    • Wash all foods that could have had contact with cat feces, including commercial fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat only well-cooked or previously frozen meat. Avoid dried meats. Sustained high or low temperatures are needed to kill Toxoplasma gondii in meat.
  • Carefully wash your hands and all utensils after preparing raw meat, poultry, seafood, fruits, or vegetables.
  • Avoid untreated drinking water. This is a concern when you are in the wilderness or are traveling to developing countries where drinking water is not treated.
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