When you are pregnant, you need to careful about infections and infectious diseases. Unborn and newborn babies have weak immune systems compared with older children and adults, and therefore are very susceptible to infection.
Infections in pregnancy can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or other organisms called protozoa. Below is a description of the protozoal infections that can affect the growing baby during pregnancy.
Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by the Toxoplasma gondii organism. It is transmitted through eating raw or undercooked meat and through contact with infected cat droppings. Toxoplasmosis may cause flu-like symptoms such as fatigue or muscle pains, or no symptoms at all. Although this infection is not dangerous to pregnant women, it can be passed through the placenta and poses a rare but serious threat to the well-being of the unborn baby.
Babies who are infected with toxoplasmosis may be born with low birth weight, enlargements of the liver and spleen, jaundice, anemia, or congenital toxoplasmosis. Congenital toxoplasmosis is a birth defect with three classic signs: an inflammation of the retina in the eye called chorioretinitis, which causes blurred vision; a build-up of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain called hydrocephalus; and a build-up of calcium in the skull. Some babies with toxoplasmosis are born with mental retardation.
If you are considered high-risk, or if an ultrasound shows the signs of toxoplasmosis mentioned above, you may be offered a screening test for this disease. The risk of toxoplasmosis is low, and therefore the screening test is not offered to all pregnant women. If a pregnant woman tests positive for toxoplasmosis, the unborn baby may also be tested. Women who are infected with toxoplasmosis are treated with drugs such as spiramycin to try to prevent transmission to the baby.
There are a number of ways that you can protect yourself and your developing baby from toxoplasmosis:
- Cook food thoroughly.
- Peel and/or thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables.
- Wash cutting boards, counters, dishes, utensils, and hands with soapy water after they have been in contact with uncooked food or unwashed fruits or vegetables.
- Wear gloves when gardening or touching soil, to prevent contact with cat droppings.
- Avoid changing cat litter pans and make sure the cat litter is changed every day.
- Keep your cat inside and do not feed your cat undercooked or raw meat.
Malaria is transmitted through the bite of the female anopheles mosquito. Malaria causes fever and flu-like symptoms such as chills, headache, muscle pain, and weakness. More severe forms of the disease may cause anemia, jaundice, kidney failure, and coma. Malaria may cause infections in the unborn baby and placenta, and may lead to premature birth, low birth weight, and death of the baby. The treatment of choice for malaria is a drug called chloroquine, which can be used during pregnancy.
To protect against malaria, avoid exposure to the anopheles mosquito. If you are pregnant, refrain from travelling to areas that have high rates of malaria. Wear clothes that cover the skin. If you do visit an area with a high rate of malaria, seek medical attention immediately if you develop a fever.