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Toxoplasmosis and pregnancy: causes, prevention and treatment

February 4, 2022 |
Pregnancy Wellness

Toxoplasmosis is one of the diseases that can be transmitted between humans and animals. Even if various other mammals or even birds can become intermediate hosts of the parasite, cats are always the definitive hosts of Toxoplasma gondii and also transmit it to humans. This usually happens when humans come into contact with cat feces, for example when cleaning the litter box. The pathogens can also be transmitted when eating raw meat from an intermediate host.

Causes and symptoms of toxoplasmosis

The parasite Toxoplasma gondii is responsible for infection with toxoplasmosis. The protozoa can infect a variety of birds and mammals, including humans, and use them as intermediate hosts. However, cats serve as the definitive host, in whose small intestine the parasite can multiply. Toxoplasmosis infection occurs in about 80 to 90 percent of cases without the appearance of symptoms. In the other affected people, a toxoplasmosis infection manifests itself through cold symptoms such as exhaustion, headaches, muscle pain, slight fever or swollen lymph nodes. The symptoms go away on their own as the infection subsides.

Danger for immunocompromised

In addition to these symptoms, people with a weakened immune system may develop other symptoms, such as seizures, paralysis, and balance problems. The weakening of the immune system can be caused by diseases such as AIDS, but also by taking immunosuppressants. Because toxoplasmosis can take a severe course in immunocompromised people or even lead to death within a few weeks, the infection in these people must be treated by a doctor. Toxoplasma gondii infection can also be dangerous for unborn children in the womb of pregnant women. In addition to a miscarriage or stillbirth, malformations such as hydrocephalus and changes in the eyes can occur, which can lead to blindness years after birth.

Dangerous in pregnancy

Toxoplasmosis is commonly transmitted to humans from cats. The infectious disease is usually harmless and mostly asymptomatic. However, an infection can have serious consequences for pregnant women and those whose immunity is compromised.

Toxoplasmosis can occur in any age group, the infection usually proceeds without the appearance of any symptoms and has no consequences for those affected. However, toxoplasmosis can be dangerous for people who have a severely weakened immune system or if the infection occurs during pregnancy. Especially in the first trimester of pregnancy, toxoplasmosis can lead to miscarriage or deformities in the unborn child. However, anyone who has been infected with toxoplasmosis is no longer in danger, because after an infection with Toxoplasma gondii there is lifelong immunity against the pathogen. Only an acquired immune deficiency can lead to a renewed infection.

How to prevent toxoplasmosis infection

Since toxoplasmosis is an infectious disease, hygienic measures can prevent infection. The Toxoplasma gondii parasite that causes the disease is primarily transmitted through cat feces. Cats are good hosts for the parasite because it can only continue to multiply in their intestines.

Do not consume raw meat

So if you have a cat yourself or come into frequent contact with the animals, you should wash your hands thoroughly afterwards, especially after cleaning the litter box. Pure house cats are not at risk of contracting toxoplasmosis as long as they are not fed raw meat.

You too should neither eat raw nor undercooked meat. Cooking kills the parasite, as does freezing the meat to -21 degrees. In addition to cats, other mammals and birds can also be intermediate hosts of Toxoplasma gondii and contact with the faeces of these animals can also lead to infection with toxoplasmosis.

You should therefore wash your hands thoroughly after coming into contact with potentially contaminated soil, for example when working in the garden.

Treatment of toxoplasmosis

Since the infection with the parasite “Toxoplasma gondii”, also known as toxoplasmosis, does not cause any symptoms in most cases, it usually does not have to be treated.

Only about ten to twenty percent of patients experience some symptoms that resemble mild cold symptoms. These include, for example, headaches, muscle pain, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes or a slight fever. These symptoms usually subside after a few days, so bed rest is the best treatment.

Be sure to have toxoplasmosis treated during pregnancy

If toxoplasmosis occurs for the first time during pregnancy, the infectious disease should definitely be treated. The goal of treatment is to prevent the child from becoming infected with toxoplasmosis. Because this could lead to a miscarriage or permanently damage the unborn child.

In addition to deformities, an infection with the parasite can also cause changes in the eyes, which can lead to blindness several years after birth. To prevent this, pregnant toxoplasmosis infected people are usually treated with an antibiotic. If the child is already infected, it will receive the same medication after birth. Toxoplasmosis treatment can also be useful in people with a weakened immune system.

In Pregnancy Wellness