This infection is caused by a parasite -- and although it poses no risk to you, it can hurt your growing baby.

If you change cat litter, work in a garden, or eat raw meat, you're at risk for a toxoplasmosis infection, unless you're already immune. This infection is caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. Although it poses little risk to you, you could pass the infection on to your unborn baby, with serious consequences that include severe illness or death. Talk to your provider about your risk factors and testing. The test results may be difficult to interpret, so your doctor may send you to a specialist. If an infection is confirmed, you can be treated with antiparasitic drugs to lower the risk to your baby.

How do you know if you have toxoplasmosis? You probably won't detect it on your own, although some people experience symptoms similar to the flu. That's why it's important to let your practitioner know if you have risk factors. Your practitioner may do a blood test to see if you've been exposed to the parasite, and he will repeat the blood test if necessary. To avoid toxoplasmosis in pregnancy:

  • Avoid eating undercooked meat or unwashed fruit and vegetables.
  • Don't rub your eyes or face when preparing food.
  • Keep your cat inside so it doesn't come into contact with the parasite and never let your cat eat uncooked meat.
  • Ask another person to change the cat litter box.
  • Wear rubber gloves if you must clean the cat litter box and wash your hands afterward.
  • Use work gloves when gardening and wash your hands afterward.
  • Keep your children's sandbox covered when not in use to prevent cats from using it as a litter box.

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

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