Toxoplasmosis during pregnancy: risks and foods to avoid

Toxoplasmose pendant la grossesse : risques et aliments à éviter

Toxoplasmosis is a common infectious disease caused by a microscopic parasite. Most often benign, it can seriously affect the fetus if contracted during pregnancy. Litterboxdisease" is transmitted by direct contact with the excrement of an infected cat, or by ingestion of contaminated food. But what are the risks of toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, and what foods should you avoid eating? Here's everything you need to know.

Definition: what is toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by an intracellular parasite called Toxoplasma gondii (toxoplasma). This parasite proliferates in the intestines of cats, but can also be found in the form of cysts in the flesh of many meat animals (pork, lamb, etc.).

This zoonotic disease, which passes from animal to human, is asymptomatic in most cases and is not contagious. It can, however, be dangerous for non-immune or immunosuppressed pregnant women. Toxoplasma gondii can cross the placental barrier and contaminate the fetus.

Toxoplasmosis is contracted :

  • by direct contact with cat feces ;
  • after eating poorly washed fruit or vegetables;
  • after eating undercooked or raw meat;
  • by contact with kitchen utensils that have come into contact with raw meat.

How many pregnant women are affected by toxoplasmosis?

60% of pregnant women are not immune to toxoplasmosis. However, cases of contamination from mother to fetus are still quite rare. In France, there are around three cases in every 10,000 pregnancies.

Passage of Toxoplasma gondii to the fetus remains rare at the start of gestation (between 5 and 10% risk when the mother has been infected). Its consequences, however, can be very serious for the baby at this stage of the pregnancy. pregnancy. When a pregnant woman contracts the disease during the last trimester, the risk of transmission is around 30%, but the after-effects are much less severe.

What are the symptoms of toxoplasmosis in pregnancy?

Pregnancy-onset toxoplasmosis is generally an asymptomatic infection. It may go undetected or give rise to a few symptoms. The "litter disease" does, however, present real risks for the fetus.

Symptoms of toxoplasmosis in pregnant women

8 out of 10 mothers-to-be are asymptomatic after contracting toxoplasmosis during pregnancy. Symptoms in others are relatively similar to those of influenza:

  • Moderate fever (+/- 38°C);
  • Prolonged fatigue;
  • Presence of lymph nodes;
  • Headaches;
  • Joint and muscle pain.

Risks for the fetus

On the other hand, if the parasite crosses the placenta and reaches the fetus, complications can arise. The child then develops congenital toxoplasmosis, which carries many risks.

Wheninfection occurs during the first trimester of pregnancy, it can lead to serious complications : neurological sequelae, premature delivery and death in utero.

The main complication detected in the baby is chorioretinitis. This condition is characterized by inflammation of the choroid (one of the three membranes of the eye) and damage to the retina. It can appear after birth, in adolescence and even in adulthood.

Which pregnancies carry the risk of toxoplasmosis?

If you're planning to have a baby, you need to have a toxoplasmosis serology test to find out if you've already contracted the disease. Is the result positive? In this case, there's no risk, unless you're immunocompromised. Negative result? Then you're not immune, and you'll need to remain vigilant.

First encounter with the parasite: non-immunized women

A pregnant woman who has not been immunized against toxoplasmosis will be prescribed a monthly blood test by her gynecologist or midwife. This will enable her to find out whether she has encountered the parasite during pregnancy, and to set up an appropriate medical treatment to prevent her child from becoming infected.

Weakened immune resistance: immunocompromised women

Immunocompromised pregnant women (suffering from cancer, AIDS or taking anti-rejection drugs after a transplant) benefit from similar monitoring. They run serious risks, even if they have already been contaminated by Toxoplasma. Unfortunately, a weak immune system can reactivate the infection.

Symptoms can be very severe: high fever (over 38°C), brain damage (abscess), epileptic seizures, intense and persistent headaches, chorioretinitis and sometimes paralysis of certain parts of the body. They should therefore be extra cautious, since the risks concern them as much as their baby.

What foods should be avoided for toxoplasmosis?

As we have seen, toxoplasma can be found in the form of cysts in the flesh of various meat animals (pigs, sheep, poultry), but also in game meat. This highly resistant parasite is destroyed if the cooking temperature exceeds 67°C. To avoid contracting toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, avoid eating blue or rare meat.

Here's a list of forbidden foods for pregnant women not immunized against toxoplasmosis or immunosuppressed:

  • raw meat (tartare, carpaccio, etc.) ;
  • raw, smoked or cured charcuterie (dry-cured ham, coppa, salami, viande des grisons, etc.);
  • products made from raw goat's milk.

You should also observe impeccable food hygiene, taking care to wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly. Don' t use a knife or board that has been in direct contact with raw meat.

Finally, avoid touching cat feces (you can ask your partner to change the litter box) and remember to wear gloves when gardening.

How is toxoplasmosis treated during pregnancy?

Women suffering from toxoplasmosis during pregnancy must consult a doctor in order to receive appropriate treatment. The drugs prescribed will depend on the trimester in which the mother-to-be contracted the disease, as well as on any infection of the fetus. In general, pyrimethamine (an anti-parasitic agent) or spiramycin (an antibiotic to prevent transmission between mother and child) are prescribed.

To determine whether the baby has congenital toxoplasmosis, an amniocentesis may be performed. If this is unfortunately the case, the pregnant woman will then be closely monitored until delivery. Ultrasound scans are required to ensure that there are no malformations. After birth, thechild is monitored for up to a year.

Pregnancy toxoplasmosis FAQ

Is toxoplasmosis a common and serious disease?

Toxoplasmosis is a common parasitic disease. It generally poses no health risk. If contracted during pregnancy, however, it can cause serious illness in the fetus and in immunocompromised pregnant women.

Can toxoplasmosis be treated during pregnancy?

Yes, antiparasitic and antibiotic drugs can be prescribed to treat toxoplasmosis during pregnancy. Not only will they limit the risk of transmission to the baby, but they can also help the baby fight the disease.

Which is the most dangerous month of pregnancy for toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasma infection is very dangerous for the fetus when it occurs during the first three months of pregnancy. Congenital toxoplasmosis can cause severe neurological damage, malformations and even miscarriage.

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The information contained in the articles on is general information only. Although reviewed by health professionals, this information is not error-free, does not constitute health advice or consultation, and is not intended to provide a diagnosis or suggest a course of treatment. Under no circumstances may this information be used as a substitute for medical advice or consultation with a healthcare professional. If you have any questions, please consult your doctor.