Pregnant food poisoning: risks, how to prevent them, what to do?

Food poisoning linked to the presence of bacteria or parasites generally has little impact on healthy adults. Pregnant women, on the other hand, should do everything to avoid them: their immune system is more fragile, making them more vulnerable to the risk of complications. What signs should alert? When to consult? What precautions should be taken on a daily basis to limit infections? The point with Fiona Dumur, dietician-nutritionist at the CHRU of Lille.

Reminder: what is food poisoning?

Food poisoning is a reaction of the body to the consumption of contaminated, toxic food or dirty water. It can occur at any age and at any time of the year.

Most often it is a bacterium (salmonella, escherichia coli, listeria, etc.), explains the expert. But other pathogens may be involved, such as a virus, a parasite, a mycotoxinetc”. Poisoning occurs following a break in the cold chain, non-compliance with hygiene rules or even exceeding expiry dates.

Note: in some cases, poisoning follows ingestion of a toxic agent (plants, poisonous mushrooms, pesticides, heavy metals, etc.). We then speak of toxi-infection.

Whether you are pregnant or not, the symptoms of food poisoning usually show up very quickly. “Most often within 3 hours of ingesting the pathogenwhich leaves little room for doubt”, reminds Fiona Dumur. But they can sometimes take up to 48 hours to appear. The most common symptoms:

  • nausea,
  • vomitings,
  • and abdominal cramps,
  • accompanied by episodes of diarrhea.

Depending on the pathogen involved (virus, parasite, pesticides, etc.), other signs may alert, in particular fever, cramps and headaches in case of bacterial poisoning. Dizziness, or narrowing of the pupils (miosis) can also be observed, in the event of mushroom poisoning for example.

Gastro or pregnant food poisoning?

Symptoms of food poisoning are usually similar to those of gastroenteritis.

  • The main clue that allows them to be distinguished is temporality, says the dietitian-nutritionist. In most cases, the symptoms of food poisoning occur very quickly, while those of gastro appear more than 24 hours after contact with the virus responsible.
  • Another warning sign: if one of your relatives or one of your acquaintances has symptoms similar to yours shortly after a mealit is surely a collective food poisoning (or TIAC), she adds.
  • A blood test, lumbar puncture or vaginal swabs can also detect the presence of specific bacteria, for example in the case of listeriosis.

As a reminder, unlike gastro, food poisoning is not contagious. Either way, if you experience fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, or any other abnormal symptom that persists during your pregnancy, seek medical attention.

Pregnant food poisoning: is it serious? What are the risks ?

Some food poisoning may have serious repercussions on the health of the pregnant woman and/or her unborn child. Three types of infections mainly stand out: salmonellosis, toxoplasmosis and listeriosis.

Salmonellosis (Salmonella): what are the risks during pregnancy?

Salmonellosis is caused by bacteria of the genus Salmonella, recalls Fiona Dumur. They are most often transmitted to humans through contaminated food and can be the cause of harmful dehydration, but also of relatively serious inflammatory infections in pregnant women (meningitis for example). In very rare cases, the bacteria can infect the placenta and cause the death of the baby in utero (source 1).

Listeriosis (Listeria): what are the risks during pregnancy?

Listeriosis is caused by bacteria of the genus Listeria. It is also transmitted by food (contaminated and poorly preserved, unpasteurized, uncooked products, etc.). Listeriosis in pregnant women results in a more or less high fever, accompanied by headaches and, sometimes, digestive disorders. Neurological symptoms may also be present.

If the disease is not treated, or not identified, the bacteria can colonize the placenta and infect the fetus. Consequences ? Listeriosis can cause newborn infection (especially neonatal meningitis), a miscarriage, premature birth Where intrauterine death. In very rare cases, it can also cause a generalized blood infection (sepsis) and the death of the baby if it is not treated in time (source 2).

Toxoplasmosis (protozoan): what are the risks during pregnancy?

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite called a protozoan, which animals transmit to humans. It usually does not cause symptoms: 80% of toxoplasmosis during pregnancy cause no symptoms in pregnant women, specifies the site Ameli.fr (Source 3). Otherwise, they resemble those of the flu or mononucleosis.

Pregnant women can be contaminated by eating foods that carry the parasites (undercooked meats, vegetables and fruits soiled with dirt, etc.); by cleaning a cat’s crate containing its droppings or by handling soil without wearing gloves.

Once contaminated, the mother can transmit the parasite to the fetus, and the risk increases throughout pregnancy. In the most severe cases, toxoplasmosis can lead to miscarriage, intrauterine death, or seriously affect surviving babies (serious eye infections, abnormal brain development, psychomotor retardation, etc.).

Food poisoning during pregnancy: when to consult?

As stated previously, to avoid any risk, it is best to consult a general practitioner if the symptoms do not improve quickly. In case of alarming symptoms such as paralysis, mental confusion or loss of consciousness, go to the emergency room! You can thus establish with certainty the cause of your symptoms and follow an appropriate treatment. Diagnosis is usually based on clinical examination and a detailed history of your symptoms. Blood and urine tests may also be ordered to determine the nature of the pathogen. Stool tests are generally required in serious cases of bacterial poisoning.

“No matter how severe your symptoms are, Avoid self-medication at all costs!“, insists Fiona Dumur.

If you are pregnant, your doctor may prescribe a blood test to eliminate any risk of complications that could harm your health or that of your baby. In case of toxoplasmosis, toxoplasmosis or salmonellosis, antibiotic treatment and anti-inflammatory suitable can be set up by your doctor.

In the absence of serious signs, there really is no treatment to specifically treat a foodborne infection. There are, however, options to alleviate the symptoms:

  • from paracetamol to relieve pain (unless contraindicated and in compliance with the dosage);
  • a antidiarrhealwhich does not enter the bloodstream (Imodium® or Diaretyl®, for example);
  • possibly a anti-emetic under strict medical supervision, such as Vogalene®, also prescribed in case of pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting.

During pregnancy, certain hygiene rules must become automatic to prevent any poisoning with potentially dangerous effects.

What foods to avoid during pregnancy?

To minimize the risk of food poisoning, it is best to avoid:

  • unwashed fruits and vegetables;
  • raw meat and certain deli meats;
  • raw fish and seafood;
  • raw or barely cooked eggs and all foods that contain them in this form;
  • unpasteurized dairy products;
  • soft and semi-soft cheeses, as well as blue cheeses, feta and creamy goat cheese;
  • etc

What precautions to take in the kitchen?

Whether you are pregnant or cooking for a pregnant woman, these few basic rules will limit the risks:

  • Wash your hands and work surfaces in hot soapy water before cooking and after handling raw foods;
  • Rinse fruits and vegetables wells in water before eating them raw, cutting them or cooking them;
  • Also rinse the herbssuch as basil, rosemary and thyme, before adding them to dishes;
  • Use a clean cloth or paper towel to dry washed food and change your kitchen towels often;
  • Respect the cold chain by putting the food in the refrigerator as quickly as possible (set at 4°C maximum) and do not exceed the expiration dates.
  • Cook meats, fish, seafood and eggs well before eating them.
  • Avoid contact between raw meats, raw eggs, raw fish, raw seafood and other foods. For example, use different utensils, cutting boards and plates to prepare and handle raw and cooked foods.

Toxoplasmosis: special precautions

The feces of your dogs and cats can be contaminated with the protozoan. Your pets can therefore transmit toxoplasmosis to you without their knowledge. For this reason, avoid cleaning your cat’s litter box yourselfor do so while wearing gloves, before washing your hands thoroughly.

Since contaminated animal feces can also end up buried in your garden, it is also recommended to wear gloves when gardening or when touching dirt or sand. Also remember to clean fruits and vegetables that have been in contact with soil.

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