More than 60 million people in the United States may have the parasite. Very few people have symptoms because a healthy immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing infection. But toxoplasmosis can cause big health problems for your baby during pregnancy.
How do you get infected with toxoplasmosis?
You can come in contact with the parasite that causes the infection through:
What are the signs and symptoms of toxoplasmosis?
You may not know if you have the infection. Lots of times there are no symptoms. For some people, it feels like the flu. Symptoms can include:
These symptoms can last for a month or longer. If you think you have toxoplasmosis, talk to your health care provider. Your provider can give you a blood test to find out if you have the infection. Even though blood tests are a regular part of prenatal care, you don’t’ usually get testing for toxoplasmosis. So be sure to talk to your provider if you think you have the infection.
Can toxoplasmosis cause problems before pregnancy?
If you have toxoplasmosis within 6 months of getting pregnant, you may be able to pass it to your baby during pregnancy. Talk to your health care provider about being tested.
Can toxoplasmosis cause problems during pregnancy?
Yes. Pregnancy complications caused by toxoplasmosis include:
If you get toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, you have a 3 in 10 chance (30 percent) of passing the infection to your baby. The later in your pregnancy you get infected, the more likely it is that your baby gets infected. But the earlier in pregnancy you get infected, the more serious the baby’s problems may be after birth. For example, he could have damage of the brain and eyes. Some infected babies may die.
If you have toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, your health care provider may suggest a test called amniocentesis (also called amnio) to see if your baby is infected. Amnio is a test that takes some amniotic fluid from around your baby in the uterus. You can get this test at 15 to 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The fluid can be tested to see if your baby has toxoplasmosis. It also can be tested for other problems with the baby, like birth defects or genetic problems. Birth defects are problems with a baby’s body that are present at birth. Genetic conditions may be passed from parents to children through genes and include certain diseases and birth defects.
Can toxoplasmosis during pregnancy harm your baby?
Most babies born with toxoplasmosis have no symptoms. But about 1 in 10 babies (10 percent) with the infection are born with problems, including:
Without treatment, 8 or 9 out of 10 newborns (85 percent) may develop problems later in life, even if they show no symptoms earlier. These problems include:
Each year, between 400 and 4,000 babies in the United States are born with toxoplasmosis. If you think you had toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, be sure your baby is tested. Your baby can have a blood test to check for this infection.
How is toxoplasmosis treated during pregnancy?
Getting treatment with certain antibiotics helps reduce the chance of your baby getting toxoplasmosis. Antibiotics are medicines that kill some types of organisms that cause infections. This treatment also helps reduce the seriousness of any symptoms your baby may have.
If you’re infected before 18 weeks of pregnancy, your provider may give you an antibiotic called spiramycin. This medicine helps reduce the chance of your baby getting the infection.
If you’re infected after 18 weeks of pregnancy, your provider may give you different antibiotics called pyrimethamine and sulfadiazine. These medicines are recommended for use after 18 weeks of pregnancy. This is because if you take them before 18 weeks of pregnancy, they may cause birth defects in your baby.
How is toxoplasmosis treated in your baby after birth?
If your baby shows symptoms of toxoplasmosis, she gets treated with the antibiotics pyrimethamine and sulfadiazine. She continues these antibiotic treatments through her first birthday, sometimes even longer.
How can you prevent toxoplasmosis?
Here’s how to protect yourself from toxoplasmosis:
Last updated February 2012
See also: Eating healthy during pregnancy