Toxoplasmosis: Should You Skip The Kitten In Favor Of The Kid?

Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a protozoan parasite called Toxoplasma Gondi. Most people who contract this disease do not exhibit any symptoms, but it can have grave consequences during pregnancy.

According to a study, at least 85% of the U.S. population has been infected with this parasite. Despite the high percentage, it often goes unnoticed. Some people have flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever, and muscle pain. It's rare for people to suffer more serious symptoms like glandular fever or swollen lymph nodes. When a Toxoplasma Gondi infection is acquired during pregnancy, the fetus can be affected by it through the placenta and lead to congenital toxoplasmosis.

Toxoplasma can be contracted from exposure to undercooked meat; cat feces; infected fruits or vegetables; and unpasteurized goats' milk. The parasite is capable of infecting most birds and warm-blooded animals, including humans. The only animal to carry toxoplasma gondi is an infected cat through its feces. However, it's important to know that having a cat as a pet will not necessarily lead to infection. You're at risk of catching the disease only when you're exposed to a cat's infected feces.

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Having the propensity of affecting people in warm and moist climatic conditions, it's widespread in continents like Central and Southern Europe; Africa; South America; and Asia. Countries such as France, the United Kingdom, and the United States have reported high incidences of the disease. Once you've contracted the infection, you're immune from it for the rest of your life. Around 2000 women in the UK every year get infected with this deadly ailment during pregnancy.

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Most pregnant women may never know they have been infected unless they experience problems during their pregnancy. Such problems normally mean that it can cause long-term damage to the fetus. According to the Organization of Teratology Information Services (OTIS), "when the mother gets infected between weeks 10-24, the risk for severe problems in the newborn is about 5-6%. Effects on the baby include premature birth, low birth weight, fever, jaundice, abnormalities of the retina, mental retardation, abnormal head size, convulsions, and brain calcification." During the third trimester, the risk of the fetus getting infected decreases because most of the development has already occurred at that point.

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Diagnosis & Treatment

A simple blood test can detect whether you have the infection or not. If your blood test result comes back positive, you may have to go on an antibiotic called Spiramycin, which reduces the risk of the baby getting infected. However, the antibiotic can't alter any damage already done to your baby. An ultrasound scan in the 20th week might also detect any possible physical problems in the baby caused by this infection. In a dire situation, the pregnancy can be terminated.

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As the adage goes, "Prevention is better than cure." So it's wise to be careful and follow the rules to a safe pregnancy. Here's how:

Avoid raw, undercooked, and cured meat

Wash your hands, cutting boards, and utensils thoroughly after preparing raw meat.

Wash all fruit and vegetables thoroughly before cooking or eating to remove all traces of soil.

Avoid unpasteurized goats' milk and dairy by-products.

Wear gloves when gardening, and wash your hands and gloves afterward.

Cover sandpits to prevent cats from using them as litter boxes.

If you have a cat, remove feces from the cat litter tray every day with rubber gloves (or take assistance).

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