Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii that can threaten the health of an unborn child. You can get the infection from handling soil or cat litter that contains cat feces infected with the parasite. You can also get it from eating undercooked meat from animals infected with the parasite or from uncooked foods that have come in contact with contaminated meat. If you have been infected with Toxoplasma once, you usually will not become infected again.
Because most people with Toxoplasma have no symptoms, it might be difficult to know if you have been infected. When symptoms do appear, they can resemble the flu and include fever and swollen lymph glands.
A blood test is available that can tell whether you are currently infected with Toxoplasma once, if you have been infected in the past. Since this test is not routinely done, you might want to talk to your health care provider about having one before your become pregnant.
With rare exceptions, women who have been infected at least six to nine months before conception develop immunity to Toxoplasma once, do not pass it on to their babies.
About one-half of women infected with Toxoplasma can transmit the infection across the placenta to the unborn baby. Infection early in the pregnancy is less likely to be transmitted to the baby than infection later in the pregnancy.
However, an early infection is usually more severe than a later one. Most babies infected during pregnancy show no sign of toxoplasmosis when they are born, but many of them develop learning, visual and hearing disabilities later in life.
If you have maternal toxoplasmosis infection, there are several ways to check if your unborn child has been infected:
The Toxoplasma infection can be treated during pregnancy with antibiotic medicine. The earlier the infection is identified and treated, the greater the chance of preventing infection of the unborn child. If the child has already been infected, treatment can make the disease less severe. The baby can also be treated in his or her first year of life.
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