When you are pregnant, there is an infection you could get that is completely symptomless. In fact, most women don’t realize they are infected with it until congenital abnormalities are noticed in their ultrasounds and tests. This infection is called toxoplasmosis, and it is caused by a microscopic parasite called toxoplasma gondii. Women who are not pregnant can also get toxoplasmosis, but it usually goes away with no symptoms. When pregnant women come down with the infection, there is a high chance that they’ll pass it down to their babies in the womb. While it is usually too difficult to diagnose toxoplasmosis until it’s too late, there are some precautions you can take to try and prevent the infection.

If you become infected with toxoplasmosis early in your pregnancy, there is a low risk for passing it on to your baby. However, if you are infected later in your pregnancy, the risk level increases. Most cases of toxoplasmosis are cause by eating undercooked or raw meat. You’re also at risk for getting the infection if you handle soil, eat unwashed produce, or clean a cat’s litter box. Your risk of toxoplasmosis shouldn’t make you stop eating fruit and get rid of your cat, though. Taking proper precautions is simple. Always make sure meat is well cooked while you’re pregnant, get someone else to clean the litter box for nine months, and wash fruit thoroughly. Soil is harder to protect from infection, so you might want to hold off on the gardening at least for the last trimester of your pregnancy.

If you do become infected with toxoplasmosis during your pregnancy, your baby’s risk for birth defects could range from mild to severe. If you test positive for the infection, he or she will put you on antibiotics to treat it. They will also test your amniotic fluid to find out whether or not your baby is infected. If your baby is also infected, your treatment will depend on how far along the pregnancy is. In some cases, you will be prescribed special antibiotics and your baby might have to continue taking them for a whole year after his or her birth. Some common defects include motor development delays and jaundice upon birth.

If you are especially worried about getting toxoplasmosis during your pregnancy, you should speak with your health care provider about additional ways to prevent getting the dangerous infection.

Source: Bridget M. Kahn: Toxoplasmosis and Pregnancy. The Journal of the American Medical Association Volume 307 Issue 20 May 2012