How Toxoplasmosis During Pregnancy Affects You
Toxoplasmosis causes mild and asymptomatic infections, as well as deadly illnesses for the fetus. It also produces severe effects in people with a weakened immune system.
A parasite causes this disease and contrary to popular belief, cats aren’t the only propagators. Although it affects people of any age, the fact is that we should increase preventive measures of toxoplasmosis during pregnancy. Learn more about it in this article.
What is toxoplasmosis?
As a first step, it’s necessary to define this disease: it’s caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, of the protozoan type, which has the ability to invade the cells of its host in short time.
It’s considered as a zoonosis, that is, it’s transmitted by animals to humans in different ways. The main hosts of the virus are cats and six other wild felines.
Not all cats have toxoplasmosis
It’s important to know that not all cats have toxoplasmosis. They must have the infection in order to produce contagious feces. Those pets that don’t go outside, eat kibble or cooked food, and haven’t come into contact with other cats, can’t develop the disease.
On the contrary, if the cat leaves the house, hunts for birds or mice (and eats them), is fed raw meat, or has fought with an animal, then it may have the disease. Once this occurs, the parasite’s incubation phase takes up to 20 days. During the next month, the animal releases it through its feces.
Furthermore, you must spend between 24 and 48 hours in contact with the environment for this to be infectious. Therefore, an excellent precaution would be to clean the sandbox once or twice a day, always wearing gloves. When finished, wash your hands well.
Another way to infect yourself with toxoplasmosis is to eat raw or under cooked meat, unpasteurized milk, or contaminated water.
Toxoplasmosis during pregnancy: risky disease
Even though we can all become infected with this parasite, the main risk group is pregnant women. It can affect them in a way that causes spontaneous abortions or injuries to the developing fetus.
Toxoplasmosis, in most cases, has no noticeable symptoms. These may even appear up to three weeks after having made contact with the feces or raw meat.
It can cause inflammation in the lymph nodes, throat or muscle pain, fatigue, and fever. It can also be confused with the flu, an allergy, or a cold, as well as with the typical signs of pregnancy.
During the first trimester of pregnancy, the parasite can cross the placenta and pass to the fetus as an infection. This causes neurological damage, neonatal alterations, hydrocephalus, seizures, cysts in the retina (causing eye diseases in the future), or hemorrhagic symptoms.
Although the percentage of women affected by toxoplasmosis during pregnancy is low and fetal infections are even lower, we can’t ignore certain preventive measures. Before becoming pregnant, we recommend that you have a blood analysis that includes a toxoplasma test.
In the event that the results are positive, it means that you have already suffered this disease. This means that you’re now immune to it and won’t become infected with it again. On the contrary, if it’s negative, you will have to:
- Avoid eating under cooked meat or sausages.
- Only consume foods of animal origin that have been cooked at high temperatures.
- Wash fruits and vegetables very carefully.
- Take your cat to the vet, only feed it cooked food and kibble, and don’t let it leave the house.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after contact with stray cats.
- Clean your pet’s sandbox every day, using gloves and with the windows open.
- Comply with all medical instructions during pregnancy.
- If you are infected with toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, the treatment includes specific antibiotics prescribed by an obstetrician.