Doctors: Dangerous toxoplasmosis apparently often goes undetected in newborns

Doctors: Dangerous toxoplasmosis apparently often goes undetected in newborns

According to a study, the infectious disease toxoplasmosis could be responsible for more damage to infants in Germany than previously thought. This is currently reported by experts from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in the scientific reports magazine. According to this, 345 newborns are damaged annually - only 8 to 23 cases per year are reported.

Contagion via cat feces and raw meat
Toxoplasmosis is a common infectious disease caused by the Toxoplasma gondii pathogen. While cats serve as the main host for the parasite, all other mammals, including humans, act as intermediate hosts. These can e.g. infect the pathogen with the eggs (oocysts) excreted by cats (e.g. cat feces in the garden soil). However, transmission through contaminated food such as e.g. unwashed fruit, and raw or underheated meat products from infected slaughter animals (especially pork and sheep meat) are an important source of infection.

Infection can cause severe neurological damage
The disease is usually asymptomatic in cats, but it can be very dangerous for humans. This is especially true for pregnant women or for the unborn child if the mother has no immunity to the parasite. Depending on the stage at which the woman is infected, the pathogen can cause serious permanent neurological damage and impaired vision or miscarriage in an emergency.

If a mother has been infected before pregnancy and has therefore built up immunity to the pathogen, the unborn child is normally not at risk. In healthy people, the infection usually runs without symptoms, only in rare cases do flu-like complaints such as e.g. slight fever, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes, which usually disappear on their own. According to the Robert Koch Institute, it is assumed that around 30% of the world's population carry the toxoplasmosis pathogen.

Infection in the womb is notifiable
If a child in this country is already infected with toxoplasmas during pregnancy (congenital toxoplasmosis), this must actually be reported, according to the RKI. However, according to the institute's experts, there are indications that this does not always happen in all cases. Accordingly, the infection could potentially be responsible for more damage to newborns than previously thought. A study had shown that there are 345 newborns, e.g. with nerve damage or eye problems due to infection with the parasite in the womb. However, only 8 to 23 cases per year are reported, according to the RKI.

Slight symptoms would be recognized after birth - but mostly not associated with the pathogen Toxoplasma gondii, said RKI infection epidemiologist Hendrik Wilking told the news agency "dpa".

Older people infected significantly more often
As the RKI informs, blood samples from a total of 6,663 people were tested for antibodies for the current study. The samples were originally taken for the representative study on adult health in Germany (DEGS), which was last carried out from 2008 to 2011 and ascertains the health status of adults aged 18-79 years. It was shown that more than half (3,602) of the samples tested were seropositive, with the proportion being significantly higher in the elderly. Accordingly, the number of positive cases rose from 20% in the age group of young adults (18-29 years) to 76.8% in the elderly (70-79 years). These age-related increases were stronger in the eastern German states than in the west. As independent risk factors for seropositivity, the RKI experts identified a male gender, cat husbandry and a body mass index of (over) 30.

According to Wilking, the results of the new study could be particularly helpful in the area of ​​prevention. Whether a pregnancy screening for T. gondii antibodies, e.g. carried out in France, would make sense, however, experts from different disciplines would have to discuss, the RKI infection epidemiologist told the news agency. As the "dpa" reports, a newborn study in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania showed that the majority of pregnant women do not have a toxoplasmosis test for preventive care. This is considered controversial, since the woman has to bear the costs between 14 and 16 euros herself without any reasonable suspicion. In addition, a first test during pregnancy only determines whether there are already antibodies against toxoplasmas in the woman's blood. When exactly these have formed, whether before or during pregnancy, must be checked by further special examinations.

Pregnant women should be careful when dealing with cats
If these indicate a fresh infection with the pathogen, the pregnant woman receives antibiotics, informs the Techniker Krankenkasse (TK). However, according to the TK, it is not certain whether this treatment can protect the child from the dreaded toxoplasmosis damage. As a precaution, pregnant women should therefore avoid eating raw or insufficiently heated meat and unwashed vegetables. Likewise, special care should be taken during pregnancy when preparing food, processing raw meat and gardening, as there may be infected remains of cat feces in the ground. In general, care should always be taken to treat cats hygienically, according to the health insurance company. (No)

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