Toxoplasmosis and Pregnancy – An Overview

Toxoplasmosis is an infection that occurs from an infestation of a microscopic parasite called Toxoplasmagondii. In an adult with a healthy immune system this infection causes a mild to moderateoften symptomless illness. The infection can be extremely harmful, however, to people with a compromised immune system and to pregnant women. During pregnancy the risk is not to the woman herself but to her growing baby. Toxoplasmosis in a fetus can cause stillbirth or long term neurological and developmental damage and complications for the baby. Somewhere between 400 and 4000 babies are born each year in the United States with complications from toxoplasmosis.  Toxoplasmosis is completely preventable, however.  Taking precautions and understanding the disease can protect your baby. Read on for more information about toxoplasmosis and how to protect yourself from exposure.

Toxoplasmosis and Pregnancy – What are the Chances of your Baby’s being Infected?

A lot depends on timing.  Some women are immune to the parasite and so can’t pass the disease on to their babies.  Women who are not immune and who are exposed to the parasite risk passing the disease to their babies.  That risk increases as a pregnancy progresses. If you are infected during the first trimester the chance of your baby’s being infected as well is around 15%.If you are exposed in the second trimester, baby’s risk of contracting the infection rises by 30%, and by the third trimester the risk rises to 60%. Interestingly, the severity of the disease runs opposite that of the risk.  While the risk ofpassing the infection to your baby is lowest during the first trimester the severity of the infection, and the risk of fetal death, is greatest.  By the third trimester the risk of infection is high but the complications are less severe. If you take care to prevent exposure to the parasite, then the risks of your baby being infected are minimal.

How Does the Parasite Spread and How Do I Protect Myself?

Around half of all toxoplasmosis infections are caused by eating raw or undercooked meat.  A pregnant woman needs to be very sure that her meat is fully cooked.  If you are cooking meat at home use a meat thermometer to ensure that the meat reached the proper internal temperature. If you are eating out check your meat thoroughly.  If the meat is pink or red do not eat it. NEVER eat raw meat or fish.  The other half of toxoplasmosis infections come from eating unwashed produce, drinking contaminated water, gardening without gloves and improperly handling cat litter.  Protect yourself by carefully washing all produce before eating it, drinking filtered water, wearing gloves when gardening or changing the cat litter (or have someone else change the litter) and washing your hands frequently.  Try to keep your hands away from your nose, eyes and mouth, as germs of any kind, including the toxoplasma parasite, typically enter the body through the nose, eyes and mouth.

Taking care of yourself, wearing gloves and washing your hands frequently and avoiding raw and undercooked meats should keep you and your baby toxoplasmosis free.  If you have questions or concerns, talk to your doctor.  He or she can give you even more information.

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