Toxoplasmosis infection

Toxoplasmosis is a common disease caused by a cat parasite called “toxoplasma gondii”. It is not contagious, but is contracted by ingesting contaminated food or via contaminated hands.  

To prevent infection during pregnancy, recommendations regarding diet, hygiene and contact with cats should be followed.

Toxoplasmosis : What is it ?

Toxoplasmosis is a generally benign disease caused by the parasite Toxoplama gondii. However, if it occurs during pregnancy, it can be dangerous for the baby, known as congenital toxoplasmosis.

It can also be serious in people with a reduced immune system.

How do you become infected ?

The parasite can be found in beef, mutton and pork in the form of cysts. Contamination can then occur through the ingestion of raw or undercooked meat or via hands soiled by handling raw meat. These cysts are destroyed by cooking (thoroughly) or freezing (for at least 3 days). The parasite can also be found in soil in the form of oocysts. 

Contamination can then occur through the ingestion of fruit and vegetables that have not been washed properly or via hands soiled with soil. Cats are the reservoir of the parasite. An infected cat excretes oocysts in its faeces. It is therefore possible to become infected through contact with an infected cat (e.g. by handling its litter). 

However, there is no risk of toxoplasmosis transmission through cat scratches.

What are the symptoms and risks ? 

_ For the mother : the disease is usually harmless and in most cases goes unnoticed.  
It can sometimes cause symptoms that are similar to a mild case of flu (fever, swollen glands, tiredness). The infection is not contagious to other people.

_ For the fœtus : the risk of foetal transmission and infection increases during pregnancy (it is 5% if maternal infection occurs in the first trimester and up to 70% in the third trimester). However, the later in pregnancy that foetal transmission occurs, the less severe the consequences will be for the infant.  

In most cases, the infant is unaffected. Only 25% of infected infants present with lesions. In the majority of cases, the lesions are located in the eye (in the retina) and these eye lesions do not usually interfere with vision. The risk of malformations is low (less than 1% of cases). 

When and how should screening be carried out ?

It is important to know if a pregnant woman is immune to toxoplasmosis. 

It is advisable to have a screening test (toxoplasmosis serology) before the start of the pregnancy. If the serology was not done before the pregnancy, it will be done at the beginning of the pregnancy. This test looks for antibodies to the disease.

About 60% of pregnant women have not been in contact with the parasite before pregnancy and are therefore not protected (not immune).

After a toxoplasma infection, you are protected for life.

What to do in the event of infection ?

If there is evidence of maternal infection, close monitoring will be implemented. 

Antibiotic treatments are available to limit transmission to the child and, in the event of infection, to help the baby fight the disease.

How to protect yourself ?

_ Wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly before eating.

_ Wash hands thoroughly before every meal, after handling soiled food or objects, raw meat, etc.

_ Cook all types of meat thoroughly before eating, or freeze them at least 3 days before eating.

_ Do not eat raw seafood.

_ Clean kitchen utensils and work surfaces soiled by raw meat or vegetables.

_  Exercise caution in relation to contact with cats and litter boxes: have somebody else clean out the cat’s litter box or wear gloves, avoid storing litter in the kitchen.

_ Avoid uncovered sandpits for children.

_ Wear gloves when gardening.

Ketterthill pregnancy booklet

Download the full Ketterthill pregnancy booklet and find all the details of your analyses during pregnancy ! 

Do you want to be screened ?

Visit one of our medical analysis laboratories.
Ketterthill is a network of nearly 100 laboratories in Luxembourg