Everything about toxoplasmosis in pregnancy, its symptoms and treatment. Read the article to learn how it will affect your pregnancy.
When you first discover that you’re expecting a little bundle of joy, you try your hardest to do everything beneficial for maintaining a healthy pregnancy. One of the most important things you can do is to examine your lifestyle and your daily activities. Something as simple as changing your kitty’s litter box or gardening may set the course for exposing you and your unborn baby to a potentially dangerous infection known as toxoplasmosis in pregnancy.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a single-celled parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii. This parasite infects birds, animals and humans. More than 60 million people in the United States may be infected with the parasite through various means of exposure.
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How It’s Spread
“Human infection is acquired by consuming undercooked meat of infected animals, by insect contamination of food, by contact with feces of infected cats or by contact with infected materials or insects in soil,” says Victor S., an expert in the department of obstetrics and gynecology.
Of those who are infected, very few experience symptoms of the disease because a healthy person’s immune system usually prevents the parasite from causing any illness. Symptoms of toxoplasmosis in pregnancy may bear striking similarities to the flu: swollen glands, fatigue, fever and muscle aches. Unfortunately, for a pregnant woman, the risks of toxoplasmosis infection can have severe repercussions to her health and the health of her developing baby.
Routine screening tests for toxoplasmosis immunity are not currently required as a standard in the United States, thus making it nearly impossible to put a number on how many expectant women actually become infected with the disease. If a woman is planning to conceive, most specialists will agree that she should make a point to discuss undergoing an immunity-screening test with a primary caregiver if she may have been exposed to the infection. A blood test will then be performed, and if the results of the screening test reveal that a woman has not been previously infected with the toxoplasmosis virus, she is then at risk for an eventual exposure to the parasite and should take all the necessary precautions during the course of her pregnancy.
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What Happens If I’m Infected ?
According to the March of Dimes, between one in 1,000 and one and 10,000 babies in the United States are born with toxoplasmosis each year. A developing baby’s immune system has not had a chance to become mature enough to develop antibodies against infection.
The risk and degree of severity of an unborn baby’s infection is dependent on the specific time during pregnancy that exposure and eventual infection occurs. If expectant mothers become infected with toxoplasmosis during the first trimester, an estimated 15 percent of babies born to these women will become infected.
“The babies are at risk of developing defects and abnormalities in the brain and dilated ventricles,” says Andrew B., assistant professor in the department of gynecology and obstetrics. Other birth defects may also include an enlarged liver, eye infections and pneumonia. Unfortunately, out of an estimated 90 percent of infected babies that may appear to be healthy at birth, 55 to 85 percent of these newborns will develop complications months to years later. These complications may include the aforementioned eye infections, sight/hearing loss and learning disabilities. “Most infected babies do not have clinical signs of infection at birth, but an estimated 55 to 85 percent will develop such defects, including hearing loss or mental retardation,” says Victor.
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Pregnant women can greatly reduce their chances of exposure by following simple precautions and making the necessary lifestyle changes to avoid infection. Andrew stresses the importance of maintaining excellent hygiene practices by making sure “you always wash your hands, wash your fruits and vegetables thoroughly and if you are a gardener, always wear gloves.”
Victor agrees, adding that expectant women should make sure that when preparing foods, they “cook the meat to well done. Avoid touching mucous membranes of the mouth and eyes while handling raw meat. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling raw meat. Wash kitchen surfaces that come into contact with raw meat. Prevent access of flies, cockroaches and other bugs to fruits and vegetables.”
Also, check our another article about nutrition during pregnancy : Pregnancy Nutrition for 3 Trimester
As for a cat’s litter box, Victor says that moms-to-be should “avoid contact with materials that are potentially contaminated with cat feces or wear disposable gloves when handling such materials. Disinfect the empty cat litter box by pouring nearly boiling water into it and soaking for five minutes.”
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The names of the people mentioned in the article have been changed for security reasons and to protect privacy.