You may not know if you've picked up toxoplasmosis while you're pregnant. That's because it often doesn't cause any symptoms.
Most healthy children and adults, including pregnant women, don't have any symptoms if they've got toxoplasmosis. In fact, they don't even know they've got it.
About 1 in 10 infected people get a mild flu-like illness that can last for a few weeks. They may get symptoms such as:
A high temperature
If you're pregnant and think there's a chance you may have become infected, you can have blood tests to find out for certain. For instance, you may want to be tested if you are concerned about flu-like symptoms you've had, or if you've eaten some meat that wasn't cooked properly.
If you're planning to get pregnant, you might also wish to have a blood test to see if you've already had toxoplasmosis. This would mean you're now immune to the disease.
Talk to your doctor or nurse if you would like a blood test for toxoplasmosis.
Having a blood test for toxoplasmosis
Only a little blood is needed for the blood test. The blood test will look for antibodies to the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis. Antibodies are cells created by your immune system to fight infection. So if you have antibodies to the parasite in your blood, it means you have, or have had, the infection.
You may need to have more than one blood test. The tests will show not just whether you have been infected but also how recent that infection was. It is important to know this because antibodies can remain in your blood for as long as 18 months after you were first infected. But infection that happened more than three months before pregnancy is unlikely to affect your baby.
The tests for toxoplasmosis are not completely reliable because they often give false-positive results. This means they show positive for toxoplasmosis when it is not present, or mistake an old infection for a current one. This is one reason why pregnant women are not routinely screened for toxoplasmosis in the UK.
If you're pregnant and you have HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus), your doctor will probably advise you to have the blood tests. That's because HIV, and some other conditions, weaken your immune system, and toxoplasmosis can cause serious health problems for you. Even if you've had toxoplasmosis in the past, HIV could weaken your body's defences and allow the infection to start up again.
If your doctor does diagnose toxoplasmosis, the next step is to find out whether the infection has passed to your baby.
How can I find out if my baby has toxoplasmosis?
Amniocentesis or cordocentesis
Your doctor can find out if your baby is infected by doing a test called amniocentesis. For this, they will take a sample of the amniotic fluid (the fluid that surrounds your baby in the womb) by inserting a needle into your abdomen. Or they can take a sample of the baby's blood from the umbilical cord. This is called cordocentesis. But cordocentesis isn't used much for toxoplasmosis any more, because amniocentesis is safer for the baby. Doctors will usually only use cordocentesis if amniocentesis doesn't give a clear result.