What is toxoplasmosis? If in doubt prefer to test – Toxoplasmosis is an infectious disease, the trigger of a tiny parasitic living pathogen, the so-called unicellular sporiertierchen (medical: Toxoplasma gondii) is. Usually, toxoplasmosis is harmless. In contrast, the first illness of a pregnant woman represents a particular risk.
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How is the infection?
The toxoplasmosis pathogen is very adaptable and prolific. The parasite is constantly on a sort of tour of various mammals, such as pigs, sheep or goats.
However, to reach sexual maturity and to be able to multiply, he needs the intestine of a cat. So as soon as a cat eats infected meat, Toxoplasma gondii enters their digestive tract and produces eggs there (medically: oocysts). This exudes the cat with the feces. Within two to four days, the oocysts are themselves infectious. In this condition, they can survive many years in the soil due to their resistance. As soon as the parasite enters the feed cycle of a farm animal, it forms toxoplasmosis cysts in its muscle tissue.
By eating infected meat, the parasite can spread to humans. First and foremost, raw meat such as tartare, mett, raw sausage or unread steak.
Attention! Also, fruits and vegetables from the free culture can be infected by cat feces.
Another infection route is the smear infection through direct contact with Katzenkot. Whether gardening or cleaning the litter box: Just the feces of release cats is very often a carrier of the pathogen.
Typical symptoms of a toxoplasmosis infection
According to experts, every second person in the course of his or her life is likely to undergo a toxoplasmosis infection that can best combat the body’s defense system. Once the disease is over, the body has antibodies and lifelong immunity.
In the majority of the population, the disease almost goes unnoticed. Some may feel flu-like symptoms, such as:
- Swelling of the lymph nodes
- body aches
- general fatigue
- light fever
- possibly diarrhea
Accurate diagnosis is only possible via antibody determination in the blood and even a positive finding requires typically no treatment.
Exceptions are, however, people with pronounced immune deficiency and pregnant women.
Why is toxoplasmosis so dangerous in pregnancy?
As soon as a pregnant woman becomes infected with the toxoplasmosis pathogen for the first time in her life, she has no defense against him. Therefore, there is a risk that Toxoplasma gondii passes through the comparatively tender placental membrane and enters the circulation of the child. The unborn child’s immune system is not functioning yet, so the child’s organism is helplessly exposed to the toxoplasmosis parasite.
In the case of an infection, it can lead to a loss in the first trimester of pregnancy and later to severe mental or physical damage to the fetus. For example, damage to the child’s eyes and brain, brain calcification, or hydrocephalus.
If the expectant mother becomes infected at a later date, her child may suffer from an ocular retina that can lead to total blindness. Also, numbness or spasms and epilepsy are known. Some of the health problems develop months, years or even decades later.
When to the doctor?
Although a column is provided for the toxoplasmosis test in the maternal passport, it is not a fundamental part of maternity care in Germany. Only in case of justified suspicion of an infection, the statutory health insurance companies take over the test costs. Nevertheless, pregnant women with suspected symptoms or increased risk of infection should immediately go to the doctor and have a blood test performed.
Toxoplasmosis is treatable and it can with timely, targeted therapy may prevent serious damage to the fetus! If the first test was performed during the first three months of pregnancy, it should be repeated at about the 20th week of pregnancy, regardless of the outcome or treatment. Only then can a possible new infection be safely ruled out.
Incidentally, child infections with toxoplasmosis during pregnancy are notifiable in Germany.
Therapy during pregnancy
If the pathogen test is confident in the mother, followed by treatment with antibiotics. Specialists choose suitably, adapted to the development of the baby preparations and administered this in a minimum of four weeks of continuous stage therapy. Extensive studies have shown that this reduces the risk of developing the unborn child drastically.
To gain knowledge about whether the child has possibly already suffered damage in the womb, a careful ultrasound examination is carried out. After the 20th week of pregnancy, an additional amniocentesis examination can provide proof that the toxoplasmosis pathogens have even reached the child’s organism.
A vaccine for cats against toxoplasmosis is not yet available, but it is being researched. However, the vet can test each animal for toxoplasmosis parasites. It is safer, however, if a cat owner, as soon as she learns of her pregnancy, immediately prompted a self-test for antibodies. If the result is negative, the expectant mother has no antibodies yet, is therefore not protected from primary infection and should take the following precautions:
- Have the cat tested and, if the answer is positive for the duration of the pregnancy, put it in another place as a precaution
- Cats only boiled and no raw meat. When disposing of the meat, it is best to wear disposable gloves
- During pregnancy, the litter box should be better cleaned by another person but preferably daily
- To prevent lubrication infection during gardening, it is also advisable to wear gloves here
- Always wash fruit and vegetables from outdoor crops carefully
- In people with a good immune system, a toxoplasmosis infection is usually without severe symptoms. The initial infection leaves lifelong immunity.
- In immunocompromised people, such as in HIV sufferers, a toxoplasmosis infection can be life-threatening.
- Toxoplasmosis in pregnancy poses a serious threat to the unborn child.
- Measures to detect a primary infection during pregnancy should be taken as soon as possible, because early start of therapy minimizes the risk of subsequent physical and mental damage to the child.