Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by the bacteria toxoplasma gondii.
It can be picked up by directly handling or coming in contact with food, soil and cats faeces/ litter that have been contaminated with this bacterium.
It is important that when planning a pregnancy or during pregnancy precautions are taken to prevent contamination with this infection.
Simple hygiene measures are usually enough to prevent transmission. These measures are ensuring that all food which is raw is cooked properly and any products which are in contact with soil are washed thoroughly.
If gardening or disposing of cat faeces/ litter gloves are worn and then hands washed thoroughly afterwards. If possible if you are pregnant you should avoid handling cat litter altogether. It is rare to rare to contract toxoplasmosis, however, the chances of transmission to the unborn baby rises as pregnancy progresses and can cause deformities, miscarriages and stillbirths.
Symptoms of toxoplasmosis are flu like and include raised temperatures, achy limbs, swollen glands, sore throat, nausea and lethargy. In relation to toxoplasmosis in cats – this infection also presents itself in a similar way to humans and would need a vet to confirm diagnosis and give appropriate treatment. The life cycle of this infection is ongoing and the infection can be shed for up to 2 weeks. If a cat has been infected they also produce antibodies and this will mean that the cat develops immunity and can be immune from reinfection for up to 6 years. It is also felt though that the cat will remain infectious for life but the infection will remain in a dormant state.
In pregnancy women in the UK are not routinely screened for this infection so it is important that if you think that you may have acquired this infection that you ask the obstetric/ midwifery team to screen you for this by taking some blood for testing. The blood will be tested for two types of antibodies and depending on these levels would indicate if infection has been recently acquired or whether there is immunity from an old infection. Usually for a more accurate result this test should be taken 2-3 weeks after possible infection so that antibodies can be properly detected.
Once infection has occurred there will be the presence of antibodies for life so reinfection is unlikely and therefore would not get passed on to other people. It is when it is a new infection that it can be passed onto the baby.
If toxoplasmosis is diagnosed it is possible that antibiotic treatment may be given. Further diagnostic tests such as amniocentesis may be offered in order to see if the infection has passed onto the baby but, this cannot inform you what effects have been had on the unborn baby. Likewise if the baby is affected then treatment can also be given to the baby after birth.
Antibiotic treatment may be required for some weeks to months in order to reduce the likelihood of infection or to minimise long term effects in babies who have acquired the infection whilst in utero.
Further information can be acquired from the following websites:
Answered by the Health at Hand nurses