Toxoplasmosis in pregnancy: here is why it is important to eat carefully
Toxoplasmosis in pregnancy. What to do? What are the risks for the baby? How can you avoid contracting it during pregnancy? There are still many questions and fears revolving around this disease and the possibility of contracting it.
First of all, you need to know whether you have already had this disease in the past (in this case you are immune) or not.
But what is it?
Toxoplasma is a fairly common parasite that normally causes a non-severe illness. Toxoplasmosis is in fact caused by a protozoan (Toxoplasma gondii) that can infect many animals (mammals, birds, reptiles and molluscs) and spread among them by eating infected meat. Then, the parasite can be transmitted from the animal to humans by direct contact with the faeces of the infected animal, but mainly by eating undercooked meat and poorly-washed garden vegetables. Particular care and attention should also be paid in case of contact with soil without wearing gloves.
But let’s go in order.
If you test positive to the disease after the specific serological test, you will experience not very severe symptoms such as lymphoglandular swelling, tiredness, headache, sore throat, but also a general feeling of malaise and a possible mild fever: basically, these are generally mild symptoms that can easily be confused with more general illnesses or with flu-like symptoms.
If, however, toxoplasmosis is contracted during pregnancy, toxoplasma can be transmitted to the baby in the womb, causing lesions that sometimes can even become serious complications.
In order to check whether or not you are immune to toxoplasmosis, all you need to do is a simple blood test, generally called a toxo-test, which should be done as soon as you find out that you are expecting a baby or when you decide to try to get pregnant.
If the test is negative, the disease has never been contracted and there is therefore a risk of contracting it during pregnancy: in this case, it is necessary to repeat the test every month and a half during pregnancy, in order to recognise any infection early on and, if necessary, proceed with the appropriate antibiotic therapy.
If, on the contrary, the test is positive, you could be ill, i.e. have an ongoing infection, or you may have contracted toxoplasmosis in the past and therefore currently be immune.
The risk of the disease being transmitted to the child varies depending on when the mother becomes ill. In general, complications increase as the pregnancy approaches the due date. Among the most serious complications and symptoms of the disease, if not specifically treated by a doctor’s prescription, are: chorioretinitis, mental retardation and hearing loss. It is always a good idea, always upon your doctor’s recommendation, to opt for specific and diagnostic examinations in suspected cases (ultrasound, amniocentesis, blood sample from the umbilical cord, blood tests).
So how can you avoid contracting toxoplasmosis during pregnancy?
The parasite lurks in certain foods, but can also be carried by the house cat or from gardening practices.
This is why it is necessary to be careful with food, avoiding raw or undercooked meat, cured meats, and, at the same time, washing hands and dishes thoroughly if they come into contact with raw meat. The same precautions apply to fruit and vegetables, which must be washed carefully or, better still, cooked.
Generally, in cases where there is even a suspicion of a maternal infection in progress, the gynaecologist proposes a targeted and specific antibiotic therapy, which will continue until the end of the pregnancy if the infection is confirmed by subsequent tests. Therapy that the baby will also have to receive, if confirmed by the diagnosis of foetal infection, until the end of the pregnancy and, thereafter, under periodical checks by the paediatrician.
In addition to toxoplasmosis, there are many factors to take into account during a pregnancy: among the possible risk factors that can have negative consequences for both mother and baby is the Rh conflict that occurs when the woman has a Rh negative blood group while the father is Rh positive. In order to protect your health, it is sufficient to carry out a blood group analysis and, if necessary, undergo prophylaxis in the 28th week of pregnancy.
By Francesca Franceschi