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Toxoplasmosis:are the women of tomorrow in danger?

This parasitic disease is harmless… except for pregnant women in whom it can cause fetal malformations. However, due to our modern way of life, fewer and fewer women are immunized. More precautions are therefore necessary.

After 5 to 20 days of incubation, the symptoms of toxoplasmosis resemble those of a small flu:swollen glands in the neck, a little fever, headaches and muscle or joint pain. These inconveniences often go unnoticed and generally do not require any specific treatment.

Only immunocompromised patients and women during pregnancy require antibiotic treatment following contamination by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii . The latter is mainly transmitted through the excrement of infected animals, mainly cats, either by direct contact with its litter or with water, soil or soiled vegetables. Raw or very rare meat can also carry the parasite.

A serious illness during pregnancy

When a pregnant woman contracts toxoplasmosis, the parasite is able to cross the placenta and reach the fetus. Miscarriages and congenital malformations (neurological and ocular lesions) are then to be feared, especially if the contamination occurs between the 10 th and the 24 th week of pregnancy.

And despite the systematic screening and prevention program for pregnant women in force since 1978, three to four children out of 10,000 births are affected in France, according to the National Reference Center (CNR) for toxoplasmosis coordinated by the CHU of Reims. . Fortunately, the vast majority of affected babies come into the world without any sequelae, but 10% of them still have vision or psychomotor development disorders.

The infection is only fatal for the fetus in 2 to 4% of cases.

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Women less well protected

It is enough to have been exposed to the parasite once to be theoretically protected for life. The body produces antibodies that retain the memory of the contamination and prevent subsequent infection. In immunocompromised people (suffering from AIDS, having undergone an organ transplant or undergoing chemotherapy), the parasite dormant in the body can however reactivate years later.

Until the 1960s, more than eight out of ten women were immunized in this way. But according to a report by the Haute Autorité de Santé in February 2017, their number is in freefall. They were already only 44% in 2003 and less than 37% at the start of the 2010s.

This downward trend probably continues today, especially in cities where domestic cats have little risk of being infected because they have little opportunity to hunt nestlings and mice that could transmit the disease to them. In addition, the frequent use of freezing also reduces the probability of being contaminated by food since the parasite is not resistant to temperatures below -10°C.

Close monitoring

Serological screening for toxoplasmosis – by blood test – is systematic in France at the start of pregnancy. Women who are not immunized are invited to carry out a monthly blood test until delivery, in order to check that they have not been exposed to the parasite in the meantime.

To reduce the risks as much as possible, strict hygiene measures are recommended:cook the meat thoroughly or freeze it for at least three days at -12°C, wash your hands after handling raw food and only garden at provided gloves are worn. It is also better to wash and peel the vegetables well.

No need to get rid of your cat when you're pregnant, but banish it from the kitchen and delegate the changing of its litter box to someone else until delivery.

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