Toxoplasmosis in pregnancy

To avoid even serious problems for the child, related to toxoplasmosis in pregnancy, first of all it is necessary to reduce the risks of being able to contract it.


Toxoplasmosis is a zoonosis, that is, an infectious disease that can be transmitted to humans from animals, which is caused by t__oxoplasma gondii, a parasitic microorganism that lives only inside cells.

This microorganism has a complex life cycle: it has an asexual reproduction that takes place in the tissues of different mammals and birds (intermediate hosts) and that occurs in the digestive epithelium of cats (definitive hosts).

Cats are contaminated mainly through the ingestion of meat infected by cysts of toxoplasma gondii, other animals (mice, birds, intermediate hosts), and only rarely through direct ingestion from the feces of other cats of oocysts (or oocysts).

In cats, toxoplasmosis can be asymptomatic, but it can also trigger neurological disorders, liver failure and pneumonia.

  • For two weeks after being infected, cats spread this disease through their feces: up to one million asporigenous (non-infectious) oocysts per day.
  • Most of them, in the course of life spread oocysts only once.
  • After a few days or after a few weeks, these oocysts sporulate and become infectious.

Toxoplasmosis is an infection that can also threaten the health of the fetus.

  • The mother may become infected when she comes into contact with the ground, or with a cat litter box that has been contaminated.
  • But it can also contract it by eating the meat of animals infected with this parasite when it is not well cooked.
  • Or from poorly cooked foods that have come into contact with contaminated meat.

If you have already been infected once by t__oxoplasma gondii, you will generally not be able to be infected again.

It has been estimated that at some point in life, about one-third to one-half of the population contracts this infection. Once the disease is overcome, as mentioned, these people will be immune for life and will no longer be able to contract it again.

Toxoplasmosis in pregnancy

There are many pregnant women who contract toxoplasmosis every year. Most may never realize that they have been infected, unless during pregnancy there are problems that require investigation: in fact, the infection often does not present any symptoms. 

If contracted for the first time during pregnancy, or if it is contracted a few weeks before the woman becomes pregnant, toxoplasmosis presents risks only to the fetus.

When the fetus becomes ill, this condition is called “congenital toxoplasmosis”. The damage that this microorganism can cause to the fetus, depends on the time of pregnancy in which the infection occurred.

  • If the woman is affected for the first time during pregnancy, it does not necessarily mean that her baby will also be infected.
  • However, these infections are transmitted to the child, on average only in 4 out of 10 cases.
  • Toxoplasmosis (if contracted during pregnancy) can cause miscarriage, intrauterine death, or damage to the fetus’ brain and other organs, particularly the eyes.
  • However, most babies born with toxoplasmosis do not show obvious damage at birth, but during childhood or even in adulthood they develop some symptoms such as, for example, eye damage. Some of them may also experience severe symptoms such as blindness or brain damage. 

If you are affected by toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, you have several ways to tell if your baby has also been infected.

  1. Examining the fluid surrounding the fetus, or fetal blood (in order to look for the presence of any infection).
  2. About a third of the children who have been affected have particular lesions that could be visible by ultrasound.
  3. After birth, the baby’s blood can be examined.

Tests for toxoplasmosis in pregnancy

Since most people with toxoplasmosis have no symptoms, even the pregnant woman may find it difficult to know if she is infected.

When they appear, symptoms may resemble those of the flu, with muscle aches, fever, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes.

Blood tests for toxoplasmosis can be done at any time, before or during pregnancy.

  • Usually these tests are able to detect the presence of the infection only two to three weeks after the triggering episode.
  • The examination involves taking a small amount of blood from the mother.
  • There are no risks to the fetus.
  • This test aims to detect whether antibodies indicating the presence of toxoplasmosis have been produced by the body, and – if present – to indicate when the infection has been contracted.
  • If the test indicates an ongoing or recent infection, there is a risk that the child has been infected. However, the gynaecologist may indicate the next actions to be taken.
  • It may take many weeks for the infection to pass from the woman to her baby.
  • The degree of risk and severity of the possible damage depends on the time when the woman was infected.

Treatment of toxoplasmosis

Antibiotics can be used to treat toxoplasmosis in pregnancy.

The earlier the infection is identified and treated, the greater the chances of preventing contagion of the fetus.

If your child has already been infected, antibiotic treatment can make the disease less severe.

The baby can be treated with medicines during the first year of life, and in some cases even longer.


Here are some useful tips to avoid infection with t__oxoplasma gondii.

  1. Cook food at “safe” temperatures: cooking temperatures of 60-67 ° C are able to destroy the parasite in about 3-4 minutes;
  2. Use a special thermometer to make sure the meat is cooked correctly: the meat should not be pink, and the liquids it releases should be clear. 
  3. Peel or wash fruits and vegetables well before eating.
  4. Wash cutting boards, plates, shelves, cutlery and hands with warm soapy water after they have come into contact with raw foods.
  5. Wear gloves when gardening and come into contact with any type of soil or sand, as they may contain cat feces. Wash your hands well after coming into contact with the ground and sand.
  6. If possible, avoid changing the litter box to the cat. If you have to do it, wear gloves and then wash your hands well. Instead, ask someone else to change the litter box every day; Keep your cat indoors, and don’t touch stray or newly adopted cats.
  7. Don’t feed your cat raw or undercooked meat.

Katherine Johnson, M.D., is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist with clinical expertise in general obstetrics and gynecology, family planning, women’s health, and gynecology.

She is affiliated with the Obstetrics and Gynecology division at an undisclosed healthcare institution and the online platform,

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