Toxoplasmosis: Cat Disease during Pregnancy
In Australia, toxoplasmosis infects 5-10% of pregnant women each year. Toxoplasma gondii, the causative parasite, is found all over the world but is more common in United states. Toxoplasmosis is hazardous for both mother and the foetus.
How do women contract toxoplasmosis?
There are various daily day activities a pregnant woman does which increases her chances of contracting the disease in pregnant woman. Below listed are common causes of toxoplasmosis in pregnant women:
Cats become infected by eating rodents, birds or small animals and the toxoplasmosis causing parasite is shed via the cat’s faeces. Cats specially kittens, keep shedding the parasite for as long as three weeks after they get infected. Pregnant women who clean their cat’s litter or who are exposed to the cat’s urine can get infected with toxoplasmosis very easily.
Raw goat milk
Unpasteurized goat’s milk may contain the same parasite. Drinking raw goat’s milk may increase the chances of developing toxoplasmosis in women. And if the woman is pregnant, the parasite get transmitted to her foetus.
Eating under-cooked meat such as under-cooked lamb, pork, venison and goat may lead to the pregnant woman being infected with toxoplasmosis. Pregnant women must be more careful while eating meat and should generally make sure that they follow a healthy pregnancy diet.
Utensils such as knife, spoon or cutting boards also contribute in spreading the parasite toxoplasma gondii. Food ingested with the contaminated utensils can put the pregnant women at risk of toxoplasmosis.
It is therefore advisable to pregnant women who have cats in their house, office etc. to make sure that their utensils are always cleaned before use.
Another common reason of toxoplasmosis in pregnant women is drinking contaminated water. Water that may be contaminated with cat’s litter or urine is a very common way of spreading the toxoplasmosis parasite in women.
Drinking clean water is ofcourse very important generally, but become even more important if you are pregnant. Further, if you are pregnant and also have a cat in the house, absolute care must be taken with drinking water. Remember, when pregnant, you are not just drinking water for yourself but also for the foetus and drinking contaminated water will put both the mother and the foetus at risk of diseases.
Cats can easily contaminate the garden in your backyard with their faeces and urine. Pregnant women who then touch the contaminated soil while gardening or for other reasons such as cleaning their cat’s litter with uncovered hands tend to catch the parasite onto their hands or nail pits.
The toxoplasmosis-causing-parasite contaminated hands then have the tendency to get ingested by the expecting mother e.g. while having food etc.
Fruits and vegetables
Eating fruits or vegetables which get contact or grown in toxoplasmosis parasite contaminated soil or contaminated water can infect the expecting women with the parasite. This especially happens more when such fruits and vegetables not cooked, washed or peeled off properly before eating.
In some complicated pregnancies, some expecting mothers might have to go through organ transplanation for one reason or the other.
Organ transplantation and blood transfusion from an infected person can transmit the parasite to the expecting mother. This however is not very common in developed countries such as Australia since modern medical institutions make sure that all important medical tests of the donor are performed to check for possible infections and diseases before the transplantation and blood transfusion is done.
Sign and symptoms of toxoplasmosis
80% of pregnant women who are infected with toxoplasmosis are symptomless and are unaware of carrying the disease. A normal immune system prevents the disease form developing symptoms. However in some cases, especially immune compromised patients, toxoplasmosis may present with flu like symptoms such as swollen and enlarged lymph nodes and muscular pains. These symptoms may last for few days to a few weeks.
How does toxoplasmosis effect the foetus?
Toxoplasmosis can be transmitted from mother to the foetus in-utero i.e via her placenta.
Congenital Toxoplasmosis can be contracted by the foetus during development inside the uterus and can result in one or more of the following complications in the foetus:
· Congenital Chorioretinitis,
· Mental retardation,
· Intracranial calcification.
How to diagnose toxoplasmosis before conceiving?
If you think you are at risk of developing toxoplasmosis, it is best to see your healthcare provider (GP, doctor etc.). Your healthcare provider would order IgG and IgM serology for you which would show if you are already infected with the parasite causing toxoplasmosis or not.
If you are pregnant PCR amniotic fluid can be performed to diagnose toxoplasmosis in expecting mother.
Treatment of Toxoplasmosis
In non-pregnant women
Toxoplasmosis in non-pregnant, symptom free women may not require any treatment. A woman who has toxoplasmosis before conceiving develops immunity against toxoplasmosis life long which prevents her future pregnancy from contracting the disease.
In pregnant women
If a pregnant woman is infected with toxoplasmosis, it is treated with pyrimethamine and sulfadiazine.
Pyrimethamine and sulfadiazine together may cause antifolate activity hence it is best for the pregnant women to take supplementary folic acid alongwith the above mentioned treatment. The treatment must be taken under doctor’s supervision as prescribed by your doctor.
How to prevent toxoplasmosis?
Following cautions may be followed by all the pregnant women for a safe pregnancy:
Cook meat under safe temperature i.e. 60 or 74 degrees celcious as measured with a cooking thermometer.
Wash and peel off the fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating them.
Don’t eat raw and undercooked seafood, make sure you wash them properly.
Don’t drink unpasteurized goat’s milk.
Wash utensils and kitchen stuff before using them for personal use.
Hand washing thorougly should be practised by pregnant women after any activity and before eating food.
Wear gloves before gardening or during any contact with soil.
Freeze meat at zero or sub-zero temperatures to highly reduce the chances of infection.