Toxoplasmosis is a zoonotic infection caused by caused by a single-celled parasite called Toxoplasma gondii and is often contracted without noticeable symptoms. Common, non-specific symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- General malaise
Once contracted, the infection confers lifelong immunity. However, if a pregnant woman contracts toxoplasmosis, there is a risk of transmitting the infection to her unborn child through the placenta. The risk of transmission is lowest in the early months of pregnancy, but the consequences for the baby can be severe, including:
- Damage to the nervous system
- Visual and hearing impairment
It is easier for toxoplasma to reach the fetus during the later months of pregnancy, but the risks to the baby are generally less severe.
The Toxo-Test for Pregnant Women
The Toxo-test is one of the initial examinations offered to women planning to conceive or already pregnant. This blood test detects the presence or absence of antibodies against toxoplasma (IgM and IgG immunoglobulins). A negative result indicates that the pregnant woman has never been infected and must take certain precautions throughout her pregnancy. The Toxo-test is repeated at various points during the pregnancy to monitor the situation and identify potential infections promptly. A positive result, on the other hand, means that the patient has already encountered toxoplasma, is immune, and does not require additional precautions.
Toxoplasmosis contraction can happen through the ingestion of the parasite, which can be found in the meat of infected animals like cattle, sheep, and pigs, as well as in cat feces and soil contaminated by animal feces. To prevent toxoplasmosis, consider the following precautions:
- Avoid consuming raw or undercooked meat.
- Ensure all meat, including the interior, is thoroughly cooked to eliminate any microorganisms.
- Consume only cooked meats, such as ham and bologna, and avoid raw varieties like salami, ham, speck, bresaola, or frankfurters unless they are included in thoroughly cooked dishes.
- Carefully wash fresh vegetables, removing soil residue and rinsing thoroughly. For added safety, you can use baking soda or specific cleaning products.
- Thoroughly wash fruits, especially those in contact with soil.
- Raw fish, such as sushi, do not typically carry toxoplasmosis but can pose other infection risks. If you choose to consume it, ensure it has adequately been blast chilled, as per legal regulations, which means frozen for at least 24 hours at temperatures below -4°F (-20°C).
- Wear gloves while gardening and wash your hands thoroughly after working.
- Avoid contact with cat feces and cleaning litter boxes, as cats can contract toxoplasmosis and transmit it to humans. If the cat is domestic, stays indoors, and has not been adopted after straying, the risk of being a parasite carrier is minimal. If you must clean the litter box, use disposable gloves and discard them afterward, washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
What to Do in Case of Infection
In case of infection during pregnancy, the patient will typically receive antibiotic therapy immediately to reduce the transmission risk to the fetus or, if transmission has already occurred, to mitigate the risks.
This treatment approach is highly effective, and most children are born healthy even after toxoplasmosis exposure during pregnancy.