Infection, infection everywhere! Infection is quite common and most of us get infected with some kind of microbes at some point of time in our life. Few infections are very frequent and general they disappear on their own or by medications, but there are few life threatening infections that might result in very serious complications. The only way to avoid infection is to stay away from the causative agents. One such infection, which infects a woman during your pregnancy and threatens the life of the unborn child, is called as Toxoplasmosis. To know more about Toxoplasmosis go on with the article.
The infection, toxoplasmosis is caused by a parasite called as Toxoplasma gondii. The culprit may be the neighbor’s cat. The parasite Toxoplasma gondii grows in the intestine of cats. The egg-cyst of the parasite is dropped out in the cat’s feces, mainly in the litter box or in the garden soil. The parasite may catch hold of you when you handle the litter box or do gardening or walk barefoot in the soil that has the infected cat’s feces. Sometime you can get infected with Toxplasma gondii when you eat raw or uncooked beef, pork, chicken, and goat; as these animals acts as intermediate host for the parasite. They grow in their muscles and get into their milk. Other modes of infection are consuming contaminated, unwashed, unpeeled vegetables, fruits, and unpasteurized milk. Few people are born with the infection as their mother would have had the infection during pregnancy and passed it on to her child. Although, it is very rare, it is said that you can also be infected during blood transfusion or organ transplantation if the donor is already infected.
Know whether your cat is infected
The primary host of Toxoplasma gondii is the cat family. If your cat is infected with the parasite it usually doesn’t show any symptoms of infection. But it excretes as many as 10 million egg-cysts in its feces everyday for 3 weeks, until the acute infection period lasts. After excretion, it takes almost 1-21 days for the egg-cyst to become infectious. The egg-cysts are so minute that they are invisible to your naked eyes and they can survive in the soil for almost about a year. If you somehow get these egg-cysts in your hand you can be infected by handling food or inhaling the cyst. Flies also help these egg-cysts by carrying it on their legs and transferring it on your food.
Signs of toxoplasmosis
Toxoplasmosis usually doesn’t show any symptoms in infected humans. If at all symptoms do appear they just resemble a simple flu with swollen lymph glands, muscle pain, fever, and headache that lasts for several months. Severe toxoplasmosis can affect your eyes, brain, and other organs. Other symptoms include reduced or blurred vision, redness of eyes, and sometime tearing.
Risk during pregnancy
Toxoplasmosis infection during pregnancy can put your unborn child in great risk. The risk in unborn child arises if you are infected for the first time after conceiving, particularly during your first and second trimester. If you had toxoplasmosis infection before 6 months of conception, then the risk of infection in your unborn child reduces as your body already has the antibodies to fight against another infection. If you are pregnant and are infected with toxoplasmosis, then of course your baby is at risk of getting infected with toxoplasmosis as the parasite crosses the placenta. Such infants are said to have “congenital toxoplasmosis”. Babies born with congenital toxoplasmosis may have medical complications, which include problems with brain, eyes, heart, kidney, blood, liver, and spleen. Few longterm effects of congenital toxoplasmosis are seizures, cerebral palsy, deafness, mental retardation, and blindness. But many infected infants will have no problem at birth but they develop complications later in their life, therefore if you had toxoplasmosis infection before or during your pregnancy it is better to contact your doctor and get your baby checked.
The only effective diagnostic test for detecting toxoplasmosis is blood test, which detects previous and current infection. Most often the blood test detects the presence of antibodies against the parasite.
Prenatal diagnosis detects the presence of parasite using amniotic fluid (fluid around the baby in womb), fetal blood, and placental tissue. A level II ultrasound can detect any morphological abnormality in the fetus such as hydrocephalus (large head) and hydrops (fluid accumulation in the body cavity). But an ultrasound is not an efficient technique to detect parasite infection.
You do not require any treatment even if you are diagnosed with toxoplasmosis unless and until you are pregnant or have a very weak immune system. Symptoms of toxoplasmosis usually go away after few days without any treatment. If you are pregnant, then your health care provider might consult an infectious disease expert and suggest a treatment plan to control the infection. It is shown that treating mother actually doesn’t prevent the passing of infection to the unborn but for sure it reduces the severity of the complications in new-born. In children with congenital toxoplasmosis doctor may prescribe few anti-toxoplasmosis medicines in various combination. If your kid has a weak immune system then he need to be hospitalized and treated and kids with AIDS need to take anti-toxoplasmosis medication for their entire life.
Preventing a toxoplasmosis infection
The best way to protect a child from complications of toxoplasmosis is to prevent an infection in mother. Few steps to prevent toxoplasmosis infection are
- During pregnancy you can ask someone else to clean the cat litter box
- Use gloves if you are cleaning the litter box and also while working in garden
- Keep the litter box clean and dispose the excretion everyday
- Train you cat to defecate in one particular place
- Do not feed your cat raw meat
- Wash your hand with soap and disinfectant solutions
- Avoid consuming raw meat and unwashed vegetables and fruits
- Wash or/and peel fruits and vegetables before eating them
- Cook meat up to 160°F or until it is no longer pink in color. Do not taste the meat before it is fully cooked
- Avoid eating raw egg and consuming unpasteurized milk
- Freezing the meat before cooking greatly reduces the risk of infection
- Keep your utensils clean, wash the chopping board and knives with soap solution after use
- Take steps to control cockroaches and flies
- Do not drink untreated water
Everyone likes to have a pet and all of us love our pet. But sometime these lovely creatures become the reason for our illness. Petting cats can be quite a risk. But this doesn’t mean that you should get rid of your cats, this actually means that you need to take extra care in preventing the infection. However, you cannot prevent your cats from getting toxoplasmosis therefore it is important that you follow few precautions to avoid being infected. In case if you suspect that you might have the infection it is advisable that you check it with your doctor.