Toxoplasmosis During Pregnancy: What You Need to Know

Toxoplasmosis during pregnancy can put the health of the fetus at risk, so it's important to prevent it with simple measures. Learn more.
Toxoplasmosis During Pregnancy: What You Need to Know
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez.

Last update: 25 December, 2022

Toxoplasmosis during pregnancy is dangerous. It’s a disease caused by a microorganism known as Toxoplasma, which is found in certain sausages and also in cats. It can put the life and development of the fetus at risk.

First, we need to emphasize that it’s crucial to practice great care regarding your diet during pregnancy. A failure in the supply of nutrients or the inclusion of a compound with toxins could produce serious alterations in the fetus.

What is toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a microorganism present in animals such as birds. As a general rule, it does not present great problems in the healthy adult population, but it can put the life of the fetus at risk in the case of pregnant women. It’s even capable of altering the brain and visual development of the baby.

Still, the chance of getting the infection is low. As stated in a study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Disease, in the event that contagion does occur, it’s best to detect the microorganism as soon as possible in order to start treatment and reduce the risk of sequelae.

Now, if you’re pregnant or are looking to conceive, you can do a toxoplasmosis test to find out if you’ve already been in contact with the microorganism that causes the disease. With a positive result, immunity is confirmed, eliminating risks.

In the event that the test result is negative, it’s best to take extreme precautionary measures, restricting the presence of sausages in your diet. Exposure to certain animals, such as cats and their feces, should also be limited, as they may contain the causative microorganism, according to a study published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.

It’s important to point out that contracting toxoplasmosis during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage. This is stated in an article published in Zhongguo Xue Xi Chong Bing Fang Zhi Za Zhi, which analyzes a sample of 228 women who suffered involuntary pregnancy interruption.

The causes of toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. You can get the infection for the following reasons:

  • The consumption of infected meat that hasn’t been properly cooked.
  • Gardening in a place contaminated by cat feces.
  • Changing the cat litter that has droppings from an animal that’s infected with the parasite.
  • Eating any food that has been in contact with an infected cat, including unwashed vegetables.
A cat in the house of a pregnant woman.
Cats are animals that can transmit toxoplasmosis through their body waste.

The symptoms of toxoplasmosis in pregnancy

Toxoplasmosis can cause a number of symptoms in the mother. Although it’s not a serious disease, it produces a temporary decrease in the state of well-being. It’s important to be attentive to the signs of the problem, as going to the doctor could be necessary in order to prevent alterations in the fetus.

The signs are as follows:

  • Swollen glands
  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Throat pain
  • Rash

The symptoms can be confused with many other respiratory diseases, such as colds or flu. In order to know precisely if this microorganism is the cause of the symptoms, it’s best to undergo a PCR test. This is indicated by a study published in the journal Parasites & Vectors.

Of course, in the case of high fever during pregnancy, it’s always advisable to go to the doctor. An increase in body temperature in this state could put the health of the fetus at risk.

The treatment of toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is a disease that doesn’t require treatment in generally healthy adults. Some drugs can be used for symptom control.

Consuming high amounts of vitamin C can also be helpful, as it has been shown to improve immune function. However, in most cases, it disappears by itself.

If toxoplasmosis is contracted during pregnancy, the pregnant woman will need to take a drug to kill the parasite. This is called spiramycin and is characterized by accumulating in the placenta.

In this way, the baby’s prevented from contracting the infection. The risk that you’ll develop serious health problems is also reduced. This is indicated by a study published in the journal PLoS One. There are other antibiotics that can be used to contain the disease.

In the event that the fetus is already infected, it may be best to act through a combination of different antibiotics to prevent congenital anomalies. Sulfadiazine can be associated with pyrimethamine.

If the fetus has suffered the infection during pregnancy, it will be necessary to continue with drug treatment throughout the first year of life to prevent sequelae. This will ensure that development is optimal.

The prevention of toxoplasmosis during pregnancy

Getting toxoplasmosis during pregnancy can be dangerous. For this reason, it’s important to implement a series of prevention measures to limit the risks:

  • Wash your hands well before handling any type of food.
  • Avoid contact with the litter box or cat litter, and thoroughly clean the surfaces where the animal has walked. It’s important to sanitize your hands again every time you come into contact with the feline itself.
  • Freeze or cook meat before consumption, avoiding dehydrated meat.
  • Wear gloves to handle soil or to perform gardening tasks, especially if there’s a possibility that a cat has deposited its feces there.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables well before eating them.
  • Avoid consuming fresh water without prior treatment. It’s best to always resort to bottled varieties.

Does eating ham increase the chances of getting infected?

For many years, it was stated that the presence of ham in the diet of pregnant women should be limited, as it could be a vector of toxoplasmosis. However, at present, no conclusive studies have been found to affirm this risk.

It’s important to ensure that ham has passed a production chain with the relevant sanitary processes before being consumed by a pregnant woman. In that case, there should be no risks to the health of the mother or the baby.

Ham doesn't transmit toxoplasmosis during pregnancy.
Pregnant women can consume ham if they acquire it in a place that meets the bromatological requirements.

The importance of food hygiene during pregnancy

It’s not only necessary to be careful with toxoplasmosis during pregnancy. There are many other food-type infections that can cause great damage to the fetus. For this reason, it’s always best to maintain good food hygiene guidelines.

For example, in the case of dairy products, you must ensure that the milk that makes them up has passed a sterilization process. Listeria contamination could be fatal to the baby.

In case you have any doubts about whether or not a food can be consumed during pregnancy, it’s always best to avoid it. The same happens with infusions, as many of them have abortifacient capabilities or interfere with the correct development of babies.

Toxoplasmosis during pregnancy could cause irreparable damage to the fetus. It affects neurological and visual development. In addition, it could be the cause of spontaneous miscarriages or premature births.

Keep in mind that taking care of the diet during the gestation period is decisive. It’s crucial to ensure that a series of routines are implemented from a hygienic point of view, such as washing hands before eating or after handling soil or raw food.

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  • Montoya, J. G., & Remington, J. S. (2008). Management of Toxoplasma gondii infection during pregnancy. Clinical infectious diseases : an official publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America47(4), 554–566. https://doi.org/10.1086/590149
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