Toxoplasma: Causes of Infection and Prevention in Pregnant Women

Toxoplasma Causes of Infection and Prevention in Pregnant Women

Planning to become pregnant or already pregnant? You need to be cautious about toxoplasmosis, an infectious disease caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii.

One can get infected with Toxoplasma by consuming raw or undercooked meat. This infection can also occur through contact with cat feces. If not addressed, Toxoplasma infection can be transmitted to the baby during pregnancy.

Most people infected with this parasite do not show any symptoms. Some may experience flu-like symptoms. However, the disease is most dangerous when it affects the developing baby in the womb and individuals with weakened immune systems. Toxoplasmosis during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage and birth defects.

Causes of Toxoplasma Infection

Cats play a significant role in the spread of toxoplasmosis. They become infected by eating small animals that are already infected. The parasite is then transmitted through cat feces. Young cats and adult cats can have millions of parasites in their feces for up to 3 weeks after becoming infected.

You can accidentally be exposed to toxoplasmosis by touching your mouth after changing the cat’s litter box, especially if you do it without wearing gloves.

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In addition, fruits and vegetables can also get contaminated if they come into contact with soil or water containing the parasite. Therefore, you can get infected with toxoplasmosis if you consume fruits and vegetables that have not been properly cooked, washed, or peeled.

Transmission of Toxoplasma from Mother to Unborn Baby

Generally, if you get infected with Toxoplasma before pregnancy and receive treatment, doctors will advise waiting for 6 months after the infection before getting pregnant.

However, if you get infected with Toxoplasma while already pregnant or before pregnancy but remain untreated, then toxoplasmosis can be transmitted from the mother to the fetus during pregnancy. This is known as congenital toxoplasmosis.

Most babies infected with toxoplasmosis do not have symptoms at birth but may develop serious symptoms later on, such as blindness or mental disabilities. Sometimes, infected newborns can experience serious eye or brain damage at birth.

Toxoplasma infection that occurs during the first trimester often leads to severe disease and can also cause miscarriage. In some infected babies, serious health issues may appear either at birth or during growth. Possible medical problems include:

  • Too much fluid around the brain, also known as hydrocephalus.
  • Severe eye infection.
  • Abnormalities in brain tissue.
  • Swollen liver or spleen.
  • Problems with mental or motor skills.
  • Blindness or other vision problems.
  • Hearing problems.
  • Seizures.
  • Heart disorders.
  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, also known as jaundice.
  • Rash.

Most babies infected with toxoplasmosis may not show symptoms, but issues may arise later on as they become children or teenagers. These problems include:

  • Recurring eye infections.
  • Motor skill development problems.
  • Cognitive and learning difficulties.
  • Hearing loss.
  • Slow growth.
  • Early puberty.

Prevention of Toxoplasma Infection in Pregnant Women

If you have a cat and are planning to have a baby, it’s essential to follow the tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reduce exposure to Toxoplasma:

1. Use Gloves:

When gardening or cleaning the cat’s litter box, make sure to use disposable gloves or rubber gloves to avoid direct contact with potentially contaminated cat feces in the soil or sand.

2. Practice Infection Prevention:

Always practice infection prevention measures by thoroughly washing hands with soap and running water after touching soil, sand, or anything related to cats. It’s also important to teach this handwashing habit to children from an early age, so they remember to do it before and after specific activities.

3. Keep the Litter Box Clean:

Clean the cat’s litter box daily to prevent toxoplasma infection, as the parasite is not infectious within 1 to 5 days after being excreted in cat feces.

4. Avoid Feeding Raw Food to Cats:

Avoid giving raw or undercooked food to your cat. Provide canned or dry cat food instead. If you want to feed them homemade food, ensure it is thoroughly cooked to prevent Toxoplasma infection.

5. Avoid Adopting Stray Cats:

While it may seem cute and tempting to adopt stray cats, especially kittens, refrain from doing so, especially if you are pregnant. Stray cats have a high risk of transmitting diseases, including Toxoplasma. If there are pregnant family members or individuals with weakened immune systems, it’s best to avoid adopting stray cats.

6. Avoid Consuming Undercooked Food:

Make sure your cat drinks clean water to avoid infection. Raw water may contain the Toxoplasma gondii parasite. Additionally, avoid drinking unpasteurized goat’s milk. Refrain from consuming raw or undercooked oysters, clams, or mussels (as they might be contaminated with Toxoplasma carried in seawater).

Can a Mother Infected with Toxoplasma Breastfeed Her Baby?

Until now, no research has proven that Toxoplasma can spread through breast milk. The risk of Toxoplasma infection in babies is more related to consuming unpasteurized or unprocessed goat’s milk. Therefore, mothers who may be infected with Toxoplasma at childbirth can still breastfeed their babies.

If you have pets or suspect Toxoplasma infection, it is essential to promptly consult a doctor, as they can confirm the diagnosis and provide appropriate treatment.

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Source:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed 2023. Toxoplasmosis: Pregnancy FAQS https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/gen_info/pregnant.html
  • National Health Service. Accessed 2023. What are the risks of toxoplasmosis during pregnancy? https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/pregnancy/what-are-the-risks-of-toxoplasmosis-during-pregnancy/
  • Eskild Petersen, MD, DMSc, DTM&H Laurent Mandelbrot, MD. Accessed 2023. Toxoplasmosis and pregnancy https://www.uptodate.com/contents/toxoplasmosis-and-pregnancy
  • Official Publication of The College of Family Physicians of Canada. Accessed 2023. Toxoplasmosis and pregnancy https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4046541/

 

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