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What is Toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. You can develop the infection from being exposed to infected cat feces and by eating undercooked contaminated meat. Infection can also occur to a child from an infected mother during pregnancy.

What Causes Toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is caused by Toxoplasma gondii. Since the parasite is excreted only in cat feces, cats are the ultimate host for the parasite. Toxoplasmosis is not spread from an infected person. You can get toxoplasmosis from:

  • Contact with cat feces that contain the parasite
  • Drinking or eating contaminated water or food; Pork and lamb are more likely to be infected with the parasite
  • Ingesting unpasteurized dairy products 
  • Using contaminated kitchen utensils such as knives, cutting boards 
  • Eating unwashed vegetables and fruits 
  • Receiving an infected blood transfusion or organ transplant

If you are infected with the parasite, it forms cysts that can affect almost any part of the body such as the muscle tissue of different organs, including the heart or the brain.

What are the Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis?

Most people who are infected never show any signs or symptoms. In some people, it may cause flu-like symptoms, which includes:

  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling sick
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen glands

If you do have symptoms, you will usually get better on your own within about 6 weeks. Toxoplasmosis may cause serious complications for people with compromised immune systems and to infants born to infected mothers.  Once you have had toxoplasmosis you are immune to it for your whole life.

How is Toxoplasmosis Diagnosed?

Your doctor diagnoses toxoplasmosis with the help of blood tests to check for antibodies to this parasite. Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system in response to the presence of foreign substances, such as parasites. 

If you are tested early, your body may not have a chance to produce antibodies, in that case, you may get a negative result, even though you are infected. To be sure, your doctor may recommend another test several weeks later.

If the blood test shows positive results, additional tests can be recommended to pinpoint when infection occurred. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC recommends that a laboratory that specializes in diagnosing toxoplasmosis should test your blood sample again to confirm that the test result is correct. 

What are the Treatments for Toxoplasmosis?

If you are diagnosed with toxoplasmosis but you are healthy and not pregnant you probably won’t need any treatment other than conservative management. Only pregnant women or people with a compromised immune system may need medical treatment to avoid severe complications. 

For people with HIV or AIDS and for a pregnant woman whose baby hasn’t been affected, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. Pregnant women whose baby is infected will have a different treatment regimen. Your doctor will monitor your baby closely for signs of problems during this period.

How is Toxoplasmosis Prevented?

You can prevent toxoplasmosis by:

  • Washing all fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly before consuming
  • Cooking meat to proper temperatures
  • Washing utensils properly that are used to handle raw meat
  • Washing your hands thoroughly after scooping or cleaning cat litter. 
  • Pregnant women should stay away from cat feces during their pregnancy.