Toxoplasmosis (Tox-o-plaz-mo-sis) is an infection caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii.
Toxoplasmosis can be spread in several ways:
- Cats play an important role in the spread of toxoplasmosis. They become infected by eating infected rodents, birds, or other small animals. The parasite is then passed in the cat’s feces. Cats and kittens prefer litter boxes, garden soils, and sand boxes for elimination, and you may be exposed unintentionally by touching your mouth after changing a litter box, or while gardening without gloves.
- Eating fruits and vegetables if they are not washed or peeled.
- Eating under-cooked meat and even by handling raw meat and not washing your hands afterwards.
- Contaminating food with knives, utensils, cutting boards and other foods that have had contact with raw meat.
- Drinking water that is contaminated.
- Receiving an infected organ transplant or blood transfusion, though this is rare.
The best way to protect an unborn child is by protecting the mother against toxoplasmosis.
- Have someone who is healthy and not pregnant change the cat's litter box daily. If this is not possible, wear gloves and clean the litter box every day, because the parasite found in cat feces needs one or more days after beingpassed to become infectious. Wash hands well with soap and water afterwards.
- Wash hands with soap and water after any exposure to soil, sand, raw meat, or unwashed vegetables.
- Cook all meat thoroughly; that is, to an internal temperature of 160° F and until it is no longer pink in the center or until the juices become colorless. Do not taste meat before it is fully cooked.
- Freeze meat for several days before cooking to greatly reduce the chance of infection.
- Wash all cutting boards and knives thoroughly with hot soapy water after each use.
- Wash and/or peel all fruits and vegetables before eating them.
- Wear gloves when gardening or handling sand from a sandbox. Wash hands well afterward.
- Avoid drinking untreated water, particularly when traveling in less developed countries.
Most people who become infected have no symptoms. Some people who have toxoplasmosis may feel as if they have the "flu" with swollen lymph glands or muscle aches and pains that last for a month or more.
Severe toxoplasmosis, causing damage to the brain, eyes, or other organs, can develop from an acute infection or one that had occurred earlier in life and is now reactivated. Severe cases are more likely in people who have weak immune systems, though occasionally, even people with healthy immune systems may experience eye damage from toxoplasmosis.
Most infants who are infected while still in the womb have no symptoms at birth, but they may develop symptoms later in life, such as blindness or intellectual disabilities. A small percentage of infected newborns have serious eye or brain damage at birth.
Once a diagnosis of toxoplasmosis is confirmed, a health care provider can discuss treatment. For pregnant women or people who have weakened immune systems, medications are available to treat toxoplasmosis.