Toxoplasmosis: Symptoms, Treatment, Pregnancy, What are the Risks?

Toxoplasmosis: Definition, Symptoms, Treatment, From Cats And Dogs, What If Pregnant?

Toxoplasmosis is a disease transmitted by a parasite. Usually transmitted by cats, it carries serious risks for pregnant women.

Definition: What is Toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a parasitical infection, the protozoan Toxoplasma gondii. Most often benign, it is usually transmitted to humans via domestic animals (including cats), or by the ingestion of raw meat. An estimated one-third of the world's population is infected.

Toxoplasmosis carries serious risks for pregnant women and patients with weakened immune systems, such as people with AIDS or chemotherapy. What's more, the recent discovery that the disease abolishes the natural fear of cats in rats has led some researchers to believe that Toxoplasma gondii may be linked to humans with certain psychaitric illnesses such as schizophrenia or depression.

Symptoms for Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is - in most cases - asymptomatic. The immune defense system prevents the disease manifesting itself. Nevertheless, some people may experience non-specific symptoms, similar to those of influenza or mononucleosis: tiredness, swollen glands, headaches... These symptoms gradually decline over time.

Toxoplasmosis in Pregnant Women

On the other hand, toxoplasmosis is dangerous in case of pregnancy. While there is no risk to the pregnant woman herself, the disease can be transmitted to the fetus and cause significant sequelae. About one in 1,000 children is thought to be born with congenital toxoplasmosis.  

In early pregnancy, a serological examination is performed via a blood test to determine if toxoplasmosis has already been contracted. In this case, the pregnant woman is immune to the disease. In the case of a negative examination, a monthly follow-up must be carried out throughout the duration of the pregnancy.

The risk of transmission of toxoplasmosis is lowest during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy (about 5%). However, it is during this period that the consequences of the infection are most serious: death in utero, malformations, psychomotor disorders... After the 16th week, the risk of transmission is higher (90% towards the end of pregnancy) but the consequences are much less severe for the fetus and are generally reduced to damage to the pigments in the retina.

Prevention of Toxoplasmosis

In order to avoid contracting toxoplasmosis, pregnant women are advised to take certain precautions to avoid contracting the parasite. Firstly, do not touch cat excrement. Do not change cat litter or come into contact with the ground unless wearing protective gloves.

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Precautionary measures at a nutritional level must also be taken. It is therefore advised to always carefully wash fruits and vegetables that have been in contact with the ground. Since the disease can be transmitted by eating raw meat, care must be taken to cook meat properly.

Treatment for Toxoplasmosis

In most cases concerning people with normal immune defenses, toxoplasmosis does not require any treatment. Medical treatment is reserved for serious cases or to prevent complications in people that are at risk. Pyrimethamine (also used to treat malaria), sulfadiazine, and spiramycin are the main drugs used in treatment.

Pregnant women infected with toxoplasmosis for the first time may be treated to reduce the risk of the child being infected. However, we do not yet fully know its effectiveness.

• Stacey Williams
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