Toxoplasmosis During Pregnancy - Topic Overview
What is toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis is a common infection found in birds, animals, and people.
For most people, it doesn't cause serious health problems. But for a pregnant woman’s growing baby, it can cause brain damage and vision loss. Still, the chance of a pregnant woman getting the infection and passing it on to her baby is low.
If you're pregnant or planning to have a baby and are worried that you may have toxoplasmosis, ask your doctor about getting tested. After you have had the infection, you can't get it again or pass it on to your baby. You're immune. Your body has learned how to fight it off. You don't have to worry about passing the infection to your baby.
But if you aren't immune, you'll want to take special care while you're pregnant. Avoid touching or eating anything that may be infected, such as infected meat and infected cat feces.
What causes toxoplasmosis?
A tiny germ called a parasite causes toxoplasmosis.
You can get the infection by:
- Eating infected meat that hasn't been fully cooked or frozen.
- Changing an infected cat’s litter box. Cats infected with the parasite pass it on to others through their feces.
- Digging or gardening in sand or soil where an infected cat has left feces.
- Eating anything that has touched infected cat feces, including fruits and vegetables that haven't been washed. You can also get the infection by eating food that has touched tables and counters your cat has walked on.
What are the symptoms?
If you get toxoplasmosis, you may feel like you have the flu, or you may not feel sick at all. Most people who get the infection don't even know that they have it.
In healthy people, the infection often goes away on its own. But babies and people whose bodies don't fight infection well need to take medicine to treat the infection and prevent serious health problems.
How is toxoplasmosis diagnosed?
A blood test can tell whether you have or have ever had toxoplasmosis. If you're worried about getting the infection, ask your doctor about having the test.
If you get the infection while you're pregnant, you'll need to have your baby tested. Your doctor can take some fluid from the sac that surrounds your baby and check for the infection.
How is it treated?
If you get toxoplasmosis while you're pregnant, you'll take medicine that treats the infection. This medicine is called antibiotic.
This medicine may:
- Keep your baby from getting the infection.
- Lower your baby’s chance of having serious health problems if he or she does get it.
Your baby has a better chance of being healthy at birth if you get treatment while you're pregnant.
If your baby has the infection, he or she will also need to take antibiotics for a year after birth. This lowers the chance of having problems later on.
How can you prevent toxoplasmosis during pregnancy?
There are several things you can do to avoid getting toxoplasmosis:
- If you have a cat or are caring for one, ask someone to clean or empty the litter box while you're pregnant. Wash tables and counters well if a cat may have walked on them. If you have to clean the cat’s litter box, wear gloves and a face mask. Be sure to wash your hands after you're done.
- Eat only meat that has been fully cooked or frozen. Avoid dried meats, such as beef jerky.
- Avoid contact with cat feces in your garden. If you touch soil, be sure to wear gloves and wash your hands after you're done.
- Wash fruits and vegetables before you eat them.
- Wash your hands and anything you use to prepare raw meat, chicken, fish, fruits, or vegetables.