Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasitic protozoa Toxoplasma gondii. The infection is not usually serious in healthy people. However, if it affects immunocompromised patients and if it occurs during pregnancy it may cause serious complications. If a pregnant woman develops infection the parasite can lead to serious damage to the unborn baby.
The parasite can be found in soil and cat litter which contains infected cat feces. Any manipulation with the infected soil and cat litter and inadequate hygiene of the hands may cause ingestion of the parasite. Furthermore, infection can develop if a pregnant woman consumes undercooked meat from animals infected with the parasite. Once the person gets the infection he/ she cannot become infected again.
Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis
In majority of people toxoplasmosis is asymptomatic. This is why it is hard to be diagnosed. The parasite may sometimes cause flu-like symptoms such as fever, muscle ache, fatigue and swelling of the lymph nodes.
Toxoplasmosis and Pregnancy
Congenital toxoplasmosis is an infection of an unborn baby caused by Toxoplasma gondii. The baby is infected with the parasite via the placenta.
Pregnant women may be tested for previous infection caused by Toxoplasma gondii. A positive antibody titer in the blood points to the previous exposure and immunity. So, if a woman has already had toxoplasmosis and has developed antibodies to the parasite she cannot be infected again and her child is safe.
On the other hand, if a woman has never been exposed to Toxoplasma gondii and the first exposure occurs during pregnancy this puts baby at particular risk of developing congenital toxoplasmosis. This is why it is essential for pregnant women with no previous exposure to avoid handling raw meat, exposure themselves to cat feces and gardening. In many countries pregnant women are routinely screened for toxoplasmosis.
Congenital toxoplasmosis features with classical triad which includes chorioretinitis, intracranial calcification and hydrocephalus. All of the previously mentioned may cause serious damage to baby's eyes and mental functions. This is why treatment for toxoplasmosis during pregnancy is essential. It may also continue after delivery.
Prevention against Congenital Toxoplasmosis
Primary prevention against congenital toxoplasmosis is in a form of avoiding infection in the first place. Pregnant women need to avoid contact with cat feces, soil and should prepare their food appropriately. Secondary prevention against congenital toxoplasmosis includes early detection of infection in pregnant women which allows timely treatment. Administration of specific medications to a pregnant woman can successfully prevent the onset of congenital toxoplasmosis. And finally, tertiary prevention includes treatment of the already infected child and its goal is to reduce or avoid symptoms.