Toxoplasmosis in Pregnancy

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What is toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis is an infection that can threaten the health of an unborn child. It is caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. The parasite multiplies in the intestine of cats and is shed in cat feces, mainly into litter boxes and garden soil. You can get the parasite by handling cat litter or soil where there is cat feces. You can also get the parasite from eating undercooked meat (such as rare beef) from animals infected with the parasite.

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What happens if I have it?

Healthy adults usually do not suffer ill effects from toxoplasmosis and many times do not have enough symptoms to suggest infection. Symptoms are rare, but can resemble the flu. However, if you become infected while pregnant, your unborn child may also become infected. Infected babies may not develop any disease, or they may become very ill, with serious damage to the brain and eyes.

If you have been infected previously (at least 6 to 9 months before your pregnancy) with toxoplasma, you will develop immunity to it. The infection will not be active when you become pregnant, and so there is rarely a risk to your baby.

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How do I know if I have it?

Blood testing for detecting past or recent exposure to this parasite is available, but is not routinely done. If you are not tested and you don't know if you're immune or not, or if testing does not show immunity from previous infection, you can still take steps to protect yourself and your unborn child.

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How can I avoid toxoplasma during pregnancy?

Here are some tips to help you avoid exposure to toxoplasma during your pregnancy:

  • Do not allow your cat to go outside your home where it may come into contact with toxoplasma. If possible, have someone else take care of your cat while you are pregnant.
  • Have another family member change the cat litter box and then disinfect it with boiling water for 5 minutes.
  • If you must handle the chore of changing the litter box, wear rubber gloves to avoid contact with the litter and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
  • Use work gloves when gardening and wash your hands afterwards. Cover children's sandboxes when not in use (cats like to use them as litter boxes).
  • Control flies and cockroaches as much as possible. They can spread contaminated soil or cat feces onto food.
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat (or poultry) and unwashed fruits and vegetables.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before you eat and after handling raw meat, soil, sand or cats.
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes or face when preparing food, and wipe the counter clean afterwards.
  • Avoid eating raw eggs and drinking unpasteurized milk.
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