Did you know that not only cats carry the bacteria responsible for spreading toxoplasmosis? Read on to know more about this disease and its effects during pregnancy.
Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection that is caused due to the presence of a parasite called ‘Toxoplasma gondii’ in the body. This parasite is usually found in a cat’s intestine, where it reproduces rapidly and is passed out in its excreta. People who have a cat at home are at a higher risk of contracting this disease. Human beings affected by this disease, rarely show any symptoms and usually do not even have any health problems. However, when a pregnant woman contracts this infection, it can be harmful for the health of the unborn baby.
It is commonly believed the cats are the only source from where humans can get infected by toxoplasmosis. However, this is not true. Cats usually get this infection from soil containing ‘Toxoplasma gondii’ bacteria. When a cat has acquired the disease, it throws out the bacteria while littering. Individuals who change the litter trays are at a greater risk of getting infected by it. An individual who does gardening can also contract the infection, while dealing with soil that contains these bacteria. It can also be present in certain meat products, and a person can get infected by it when he eats raw or improperly cooked meat. It can also be contracted by drinking unpasteurized milk, especially goat milk because goats are also the carriers of the bacteria responsible for this disease.
Any living being once affected by toxoplasmosis does not contract it again. If a woman has had the infection 6-9 months before getting pregnant, she won’t contract it again during pregnancy. The time when the woman gets infected during pregnancy, determines the severity of its effects on her child. If the woman gets infected in the first trimester, there are only 0-15% chances of the baby getting infected. However, if she gets it in her second or third trimester, the chances of passing the infection to the baby rise up to 70-80%.
It has been recorded that when a pregnant woman has toxoplasmosis, there is a high risk of a miscarriage or still birth. Babies born with this disease are reported to have severe brain damage and the condition is called congenital toxoplasmosis. It is likely that they are born with defects, like, visual impairment or blindness, hearing loss, and even mental retardation. Some of the symptoms that can be observed are jaundice, low birth weight, swollen lymph nodes, rashes, enlarged liver and spleen, etc.
Since, normally, toxoplasmosis is asymptomatic, it would be beneficial if every pregnant woman goes through certain tests to determine whether she or her baby is infected. If a pregnant woman has this infection, the physician may prescribe some antibiotics so as to prevent the child from infection. If the baby is born with the disease, he or she may be treated with antibiotics for at least one year. However, it has rarely been found that once the baby is born, the damage caused before birth, can be rectified through treatment and medications.
As there is no proper treatment that can cure the infection caused to the child, it is necessary that a pregnant woman takes some precautions, so as not to get infected by the bacteria. It is not necessary that one should give away a pet cat during pregnancy, as it is not the only source of toxoplasmosis. However, the pregnant woman should avoid cleaning its litter box and instead ask someone else in the family to do so every day. It takes more than 24 hours for the bacteria to become active. It is necessary to wear gloves and wash the hands thoroughly after cleaning the litter. Meat should be thoroughly cooked before eating, and also, while feeding the cat. Fruits and vegetables also need to be washed well before eating because they may also contain the disease-causing bacteria.
Pregnancy is a crucial time for every woman, where even a small wrong step can have hazardous consequences on the health of the unborn child. However, taking the above precautions can ensure that the baby is safe from toxoplasmosis.