I was diagnosed with toxoplasmosis when pregnant

Interview with Franziska, a consultant from Germany

I am originally from Germany but was living in Italy at the time that I was infected with toxoplasmosis. Italy is one of the few countries where pregnant women are routinely tested, and in Germany they do not, so I was lucky that I was tested. I would never have thought to ask for this test, had it not been provided.

When I was tested, the doctor found immunoglobulin Toxoplasma gondii specific antibodies, indicating that I had a current or very recent infection. I contracted the disease just before becoming pregnant. I knew the risk factors of toxoplasmosis, but I ate raw fruits and vegetables just like everyone else does in Italy. Of course, it is important to avoid certain foods while pregnant or planning to become pregnant, like raw milk cheese and raw meat, but where do you draw the line? I’ll never truly know how I contracted the disease, but looking back I do remember a period of a few days when I had flu-like symptoms, right before becoming pregnant.

With the combination of my older age and the risk of infection, my doctors decided to do an amniocentesis. Despite the risk to the baby, it was necessary to see if Toxoplasma antibodies were in my amniotic fluid, indicating that the infection could have been passed to my baby. Luckily, the test showed that she was not positive for the infection. Again, I was very lucky, because I was able to see a leading gynaecologist and fertility doctor in Berlin. He did very extensive screening through ultrasound and amniocentesis throughout my pregnancy. The infection, testing and treatment made my pregnancy more complicated, laborious and certainly very scary. I was fortunate that my various doctors were willing to work with each other, and all of the care I received was definitely above and beyond what is considered normal.

A combination of 2 antibiotics for 2 months

The circumstances of my pregnancy were difficult, because I never really talked about my toxoplasmosis infection with anyone during the pregnancy. I kept everything very private, and was just too afraid to talk about it before I knew that my baby would be safe. I took a combination of antibiotics for at least 2 months during my pregnancy. It was very scary and difficult to make these big decisions about treatment, because the treatment in itself poses a risk to the child. It is only a probability that the child will be infected, which makes treatment more challenging, as there is no single solution. My daughter was one-day old when they tested her eyes extensively, and did brain scans and blood tests. I am so fortunate that my daughter was completely healthy, but that first day of her life was frightening as I waited for the results.

It is difficult to offer women advice, and while all women should be careful, maintaining a balance between avoiding risks and living a normal life can be tricky. Of course, when you are thinking of becoming pregnant you need to change your lifestyle and avoid certain high-risk foods, but it is also important to practice safe food handling with all foods, like fruits and vegetables. Luckily, because the prevalence is so high, people in Italy are quite aware of the risks, which is why testing during pregnancy is routine. However in many other countries, people often only associate the disease with having a cat, which isn’t how most people become infected. I think what would really make the biggest difference would be increased awareness about the disease and how to prevent it, especially proper food handling and making safe choices about what we eat.