As an expecting mother, you could be vulnerable to certain infections. While some are harmless, others might affect your health. Toxoplasmosis is one such adverse infection that you could acquire during pregnancy. While it may sound scary, you do not have to worry as there are ways to prevent and treat the condition.
In this MomJunction post, we tell you about toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, its symptoms, effects and risks, and ways to treat and prevent it.
What Is Toxoplasmosis In Pregnancy?
Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection caused by a protozoan named Toxoplasma gondii. The parasite is responsible for the formation of cysts that affect your muscle tissue and brain. When a pregnant woman acquires this infection, the symptoms may or may not be evident, but the infection could pass on to the fetus, resulting in ocular diseases and neurological damage in the baby (1).
Usually, non-pregnant women with good immunity can fight the Toxoplasma gondii. However, a weaker immune system during pregnancy might make women vulnerable to the infection.
How Common Is Toxoplasmosis In Pregnancy?
According to the US Organization of Teratology Information Specialists, approximately 65 to 85% of expecting mothers in the US are prone to toxoplasmosis (2) (3). The infection is common in places with warm temperatures and a wet climate. Central and Eastern Europe, parts of Africa and southeast Asia, and The Middle East are a few regions where toxoplasmosis is highly prevalent.
It is also common in France, mainly because their diet includes raw and minimally cooked meat (4). Research also confirms that uncooked meat increases the risk of the infection in the mother and the possibility of transmitting the infection to the newborn (1).
In the next section, we tell you about the signs and symptoms that indicate toxoplasmosis in pregnant women.
What Are the Symptoms Of Toxoplasmosis During Pregnancy?
The symptoms of toxoplasmosis are not evident, which makes detecting the infection difficult without proper diagnostic tools. If you are pregnant, the only way to know if you are infected is through examination and tests. However, women with toxoplasmosis commonly experience flu-like symptoms, including fever, tiredness, headache, swollen lymph nodes, night sweats, and body aches.
Toxoplasmosis in pregnant women may harm the newborns (5), especially if it was acquired around six weeks before pregnancy or during pregnancy. The condition is termed as congenital toxoplasmosis, which could affect the baby.
How Does Toxoplasmosis Affect The Pregnancy?
Toxoplasmosis infection during pregnancy could result in a miscarriage, stillbirth, and birth defects, depending on the stage of gestation when the woman acquires it. According to a few studies, this condition can also cause abortions (5).
Toxoplasmosis in pregnancy could affect the newborn in the following ways (6):
- Delay in development
- Small body size or head size is either too small or large
- Eye problems
- Hearing loss
- Swollen lymph nodes.
The fetus is at a higher risk of acquiring infection from the mother in the third trimester. However, there is not much damage done at this stage, because the fetus is almost developed (7).
The symptoms of toxoplasmosis usually surface as the baby starts growing, and not immediately after birth.
If toxoplasmosis is not diagnosed in the mother in time, the condition could increase the risk of premature birth and fetal mortality (8). Read on to learn how the condition is diagnosed.
What Are The Tests To Detect Toxoplasmosis During Pregnancy?
If you are pregnant and suspected of having toxoplasmosis, your doctor will prescribe the following diagnostic procedures.
- Serologic testing: Any gestational infection is diagnosed through serological tests which look for certain antibodies such as IgA, IgM, and anti-T. gondii IgG. The doctors will check for the specificity and sensitivity levels of these antibodies to determine if they can lead to infection (1).
- Ultrasound scan: This is performed to check for ascites, hydrocephalus, intracranial calcifications, intrauterine growth restrictions, microcephaly, and hepatosplenomegaly. Their presence could indicate infection during pregnancy (1).
- Amniocentesis: This procedure might be prescribed by the doctors to look for Toxoplasma gondii in the amniotic fluid (9).
- Cordocentesis: This test aims at detecting toxoplasmosis in the fetus. However, the results from this test are not as accurate as those of the other tests. Hence, most doctors do not depend on cordocentesis to detect toxoplasmosis (10).
The doctors will determine the severity of the condition based on the diagnosis and prescribe the treatment accordingly.
How To Treat Toxoplasmosis During Pregnancy?
Pregnant women who have been diagnosed with toxoplasmosis should get the treatment at the earliest to reduce the risks and complications for the baby. Doctors may treat the condition by prescribing certain medications such as Spiramycin to treat the maternal infection if the fetus is not already infected. Spiramycin also prevents transmission of the infection to the baby (11) (12).
Even after you are cured of the infection, make sure you regularly go for the follow-ups before and after delivery and keep the infection away. Toxoplasmosis infection can also be prevented by following a few tips. Keep reading to know what they are.
How To Prevent Toxoplasmosis?
- Wear gloves when you have to work in the garden. After you are done working, wash your hands properly.
- Maintain proper hand hygiene.
- Avoid raw or undercooked meat and unwashed vegetables and fruits.
- Avoid contact with soil and litter boxes as they are likely to have Toxoplasma gondii.
- Outdoor cats could also be a source of Toxoplasma infection, so avoid handling them.
- Ask your family member to clear your cat’s litter box once in a day.
- To prevent the infection, cook the food at a certain safe temperature.
- Make sure you are washing your dishes, cutting boards, utensils, and counters in soapy hot water after use.
Maintain personal hygiene and go for regular checkups while you are pregnant. And if you notice any changes in your body, discuss with your doctor and go for further examination if necessary. The sooner you notice, the better you can combat toxoplasmosis infection.
Do you have any experiences to share? Tell us about it in the comments section below.
2. Toxoplasmosis; Mother To Baby: Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (2017)
3. S. K. Halonen and L. M. Weiss; Toxmoplasmosis; Handbook of Clinical Neurology (2013)
4. Toxoplasmosis: Presentation of the disease, recommendations and the role of ANSES; French Agency for Food, Environmental and OccupationalHealth & Safety (2016)
5. Toxoplasmosis & Pregnancy; Cleveland Clinic (2018)
6. Toxoplasmosis during pregnancy; Wayne State University Physician Group
7. A. Elbez-Rubinstein at al.; Congenital Toxoplasmosis and Reinfection during Pregnancy: Case Report, Strain Characterization, Experimental Model of Reinfection, and Review; The Journal of Infectious Diseases (2009)
8. Toxoplasmosis: What is it?; Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School (2016)
9. C. Paquet and MH. Yudin; Toxoplasmosis in pregnancy: prevention, screening, and treatment; Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (2013)
10. W. Foulon et al.; Prenatal diagnosis of congenital toxoplasmosis: a multicenter evaluation of different diagnostic parameters; American journal of obstetrics and gynaecology (1999)
11. S. A. Chaudhry, N. Gad, and G. Koren; Toxoplasmosis and pregnancy; Official Publication of The College of Family Physicians of Canada (2014)
12. Toxoplasmosis treatment; Stanford University
13. Preventing Congenital Toxoplasmosis; CDC (2000)