Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease caused by toxoplasma gondii. The main host of these parasites is the cat; in other stages of its development, the toxoplasma gondii uses the human as an intermediate host, which is why this infectious disease is also classified as a zoonosis. Humans can either infect themselves directly via the resistant pathogen forms found in cat feces (e.g. while gardening), or indirectly with development stages from other intermediate hosts (e.g. consumption of undercooked pork or mutton). For both host forms, the infection is usually asymptomatic. In humans it can sometimes be expressed as a flu infection, with swollen lymph nodes in the neck area. Usually, a toxoplasmosis does not need to be treated. In an intact immune system the infection leads to the building of antibodies, providing life-long immunity.
This could also the case in an unborn child during pregnancy: If the mother had a toxoplasma infection before the start of pregnancy, the embryo is safe from contagion. This could simply be tested with an antibody test. However, about half of all soon-to-be mothers are not immune to that particular pathogen, meaning she could fall sick herself and pass it on to her child. If an infection in a pregant woman is diagnosed, treatment is necessary even if no symptoms are shown, because transfer to the embryo in the early stages of pregnancy could lead to a miscarriage; and in late pregnancy, the infection could cause severe mental and physical impairments in the child.
There are a few simple recommendations to prevent toxoplasma infection during pregnancy:
- Only eat well-cooked meat
- When handling raw meat, fresh fruit and raw vegetables, do not touch eyes or mouth with the hands
- Wash garden fruit, vegetables, and salad well before consumption
- Do not clean litter boxes (if present) yourself, but make sure it is emptied every day
- Be careful when in the garden or in sand boxes, cats often bury their feces under the soil/sand
A treatment of toxoplasmosis must take place for:
- every toxoplasma infection which shows symptoms (i.e. attack of the heart, lung, or brain), which mainly occurs in immunosuppressed patients (AIDS-patients or patients after a stem cell transplant).
- toxoplasmosis in the eye.