Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is a condition that’s caused by one of the most common parasites in the world, Toxoplasma gondii. Most healthy individuals affected with toxoplasmosis will not experience symptoms of the condition. However, if you re pregnant or have a compromised immune system, toxoplasmosis can lead to serious complications.

Symptoms

Most healthy individuals who have toxoplasmosis will never develop any symptoms. Some individuals affected with the condition can develop flu-like symptoms, such as fever, body aches, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and headaches.

If you’ve recently undergone an organ transplant, have HIV/AIDS, or are undergoing chemotherapy, a prior toxoplasma infection may reactivate. If this happens, you may experience more severe symptoms of toxoplasmosis, such as confusion, headaches, seizures, blurred vision, an inability to concentrate, and lung problems.

You may pass toxoplasmosis to your baby if you become infected just before or during your pregnancy. You are most likely to pass toxoplasmosis to your baby if you are infected in your third trimester. However, if your baby develops toxoplasmosis during your first trimester, he will experience more severe complications. You may miscarry or give birth to a stillborn baby. Infants who survive may have an enlarged spleen and liver, severe eye infections, seizures, or jaundice. Other times, infants infected with toxoplasmosis don’t show any symptoms of the condition. Rather, they may develop symptoms later in life as teenagers. They may experience severe eye infections, mental disability, and hearing loss as teens.

Causes

Toxoplasmosis is caused by a single-celled parasite called toxoplasma gondii. You cannot contract toxoplasmosis from another person. However, you can become infected with the parasite if you come into contact with infected cat feces, eat or drink contaminated food or water, use contaminated cutting boards, knives, or other kitchen utensils, eat unwashed vegetables or fruits, or receive infected blood or organs from another person.

According to Mayo Clinic, when you become infected with toxoplasma gondii, the parasite creates cysts that can affect nearly any area of your body, including your organs, muscle tissue, and brain. If you’re healthy, your immune system prevents the parasite from causing damage to your body. Toxoplasma gondii will stay in your body in an inactive state. This gives you lifelong immunity, and you cannot be infected with toxoplasma gondii again. The infection can be reactivated in individuals who have compromised immune systems from diseases or medications, which can lead to serious complications.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Blood tests are used to look for antibodies to toxoplasma gondii. If you test positive for the parasite antibodies and have symptoms of toxoplasmosis, you may be treated with medications, such as pyrimethamine and sulfadiazine.

Prevention

Prevention is the best approach to toxoplasmosis. There are several things you can do in order to prevent becoming infected. Wear gloves when you garden or work with soil, and wash your hands thoroughly when you’re done. Wash kitchen utensils, including cutting boards and knives thoroughly after using them, and wash your hands after handling raw meat. To keep cats from using your sandbox as a litter box, cover it when your children aren’t using it.

Don’t drink unpasteurized milk. Meat, especially beef, lamb, and pork may contain toxoplasma gondii; never eat raw meat. Wash all of your fruits and vegetables before eating them.

While toxoplasmosis doesn’t typically cause problems for healthy individuals, it can lead to serious complications for those who have compromised immune systems. Taking some simple precautions when preparing food, working outdoors, and handling cat feces can help you prevent becoming infected with toxoplasma gondii. If you have symptoms of toxoplasmosis, talk with your doctor about them to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment, if necessary.