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Toxoplasmosis Is Dangerous In Pregnant Women

Katlyn Joy | 4, May 2014


While you may not know much about this illness, or possibly even heard of it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 60 million Americans have the parasite. Fortunately, very few people will show symptoms or become ill since our immune systems are usually capable of handing it. It is one of the most common parasites in the world.

What is Toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is a disease resulting from contact with the parasite, Toxoplasma gondii. Toxoplasmosis is in the group called Neglected Parasitic Infections, a collection of five parasitic diseases that the CDC is targeting for public action.

How Do People Get Toxoplasmosis?

The parasite is found in humans, lives in cats, and is found in many birds and animals. You can get the disease from the parasite in a number of ways.

- Coming in contact with contaminated cat feces. If you accidentally touch your mouth after cleaning a litter box, or garden without gloves and touch your mouth afterwards, you can contract the illness. Outdoor cats use soil and sandboxes to defecate and can spread the parasite in that manner.

- Since soil can become contaminated with toxoplasmosis, if you do not properly wash your fruits or veggies before ingesting them, you can get the parasites. Additionally, eating raw or undercooked meats, specifically lamb, pork or beef.

- Not keeping a hygienic kitchen.

- If you are not careful of cross contamination, you can spread the illness by unwashed knives, cutting boards or countertops. Always use soapy water to clean any area where you prepare raw meat.

- Those who receive organ donations or blood transfusions are also at risk.

- Rarely, unpasteurized milk or milk products and water can carry the parasite. Water is not likely to be the culprit in the United States.

- Infants born to mothers who have contracted the parasite are at risk.

Who Gets Toxoplasmosis?

According to the Mayo Clinic, people with compromised immune systems are primarily the ones at risk, such as those with HIV/AIDS, those undergoing chemotherapy, people who take steroids or other drugs that suppress the immune system, and finally, pregnant women.

Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis

Many people never know they've contracted the illness, but should you experience symptoms they will be much like the flu or mononucleosis with such complaints as:

  • Swollen lymph nodes.
  • Headaches.
  • Body aches.
  • Fever.
  • Lethargy.
  • Possibly a sore throat.

If you think you could possibly have toxoplasmosis, speak to your doctor. A blood test will probably be sufficient for a diagnosis. Don't assume your physician will know from tests already run; toxoplasmosis isn't typically an illness pregnant women are screened for.

How Your Baby May Be Affected If You Contract Toxoplasmosis

If you contracted the disease within six months of becoming pregnant, your baby may be affected. Pregnancy complications can be dire; preterm birth or stillbirth.

If you have toxoplasmosis, there is about a 30 percent chance you will pass the illness onto your child, according to the March of Dimes. The rate of infection is higher if you become ill later in pregnancy. However, should be contract the disease early in pregnancy, the chances of baby having more serious complications are greater. The risks include damage to the eyes or brain and even death.

Should you have the illness, your physician may order an amniocentesis to find out if baby is affected.

Between 400 and 4000 babies are born annually in the US with toxoplasmosis. Of those, 10 percent are born with problems such as enlarged liver and spleen, eye problems, jaundice and pneumonia.

Without treatment, 85 percent of babies born with toxoplasmosis will develop problems later in life such as developmental disabilities, cerebral palsy, eye problems, hearing loss or seizures.

Antibiotic treatment for pregnant women and their infected children is standard.

Prevent Toxoplasmosis-Tips from the ASPCA

1. Have all cats in your household tested for toxoplasmosis.

2. Keep cats indoors. Cats that hunt or eat raw meat are at heightened risk.

3. Don't feed your cat raw meat.

4. Wear rubber gloves when changing kitty litter or better yet, delegate the duty. It needs done twice daily.

5. Wear gloves when gardening.

6. Keep kids' sandboxes covered to keep them from turning into giant outdoor litter boxes.

7. Be careful when handling raw meat, and wash veggies and fruits before eating.


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