F E AT U R E IS TOXOPLASMOSIS HIGHLY RISKY FOR PREGNANT WOMEN? Unless immune, pregnant mothers can develop Toxoplasma due to several factors, including exposure to cat faeces, and transfer it to their unborn child. By Suha Jafri Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a common single-celled parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. Most warm-blooded animals including sheep, cattle, dogs, cats and humans can be infected with this tiny single-celled parasite. However, the parasite can only be passed on if it enters the environment or food chain, or if it passes from an infected mother to her unborn baby, known as congenital toxoplasmosis. Rarely, the parasite can also be passed from human to human via organ transplantation. In healthy people the symptoms of toxoplasmosis tend to be mild and general, which may lead to a large proportion of cases going unnoticed. Most people who get toxoplasmosis don’t have symptoms. Around 10 to15% of people develop symptoms similar to mild flu or glandular fever, such as a temperature, sore throat and muscle aches. Congenital toxoplasmosis can be quite serious. It occurs when a woman becomes infected during pregnancy and passes the infection on to her unborn baby. This can result in the baby developing serious health problems, such as brain damage and partial blindness. The T. gondii parasite that causes toxoplasmosis is often found in the faeces of infected cats. Cats don’t usually show any symptoms of toxoplasmosis so you may not know whether your cat is infected. Also, infected cats usually only excrete the parasite for a short period of time, usually 2-3 weeks after they are first infected. If the T. gondii parasite gets into the environment or food chain, humans can ingest it. Infection can occur by: • Consuming food, water or soil that’s contaminated with infected cat’s faeces. • Eating or handling raw, undercooked 20 infected meat, such lamb or venison, or infected cured meat, such as salami. • Using knives and other utensils that have been in contact with undercooked or raw infected meat. • Drinking unpasteurised goat’s milk or eating products made from it, such as cheese. If you are pregnant and tests confirm that you have had a recent toxoplasmosis infection, you will need a further test to determine whether your unborn baby is also infected. Amniocentesis is the test most commonly used. Pregnant women infected with toxoplasmosis for the first time may be prescribed antibiotics. This aims to reduce the risk of the unborn baby becoming infected and to limit the severity of congenital toxoplasmosis if the baby does become infected.