Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a single-celled parasite
. It is found throughout the world.
More than 60 million people in the United States probably are
infected with the
parasite, but very few have
symptoms because the immune system usually keeps the parasite from
How can I get toxoplasmosis?
You can become infected after accidentally ingesting
eggs from soil or other
contaminated surfaces. This can happen by putting your hands to
your mouth after gardening, cleaning a cat's litter box, or by
touching anything that has come into contact with cat feces. If you
are pregnant when first infected with
, you can
pass infection to your baby. If you have eaten raw or partly cooked
meat, especially pork, lamb, or venison, or if you have touched
your hands to your mouth after touching the meat.
may also be transmitted through organ transplantation or
transfusion, although these instances are rare.
What are the symptoms of toxoplasmosis?
You may feel like you have the "flu," swollen lymph glands, or
muscle aches and pains that last for a few days to several weeks.
However, most people who become infected with toxoplasmosis don't
know it. On the other hand, people with immune system problems,
such as those with HIV/AIDS, those taking certain types of
chemotherapy, or persons who have recently received an organ
transplant, and infants, may develop severe toxoplasmosis. Severe
toxoplasmosis results in damage to the eye or the brain. Infants
who became infected before birth can be born retarded or with
several other serious mental or physical problems.
Who is at risk for severe toxoplasmosis?
Babies born to mothers who are first exposed to
infection several months before or during
pregnancy are at risk for severe disease. However, many exposed
infants have no symptoms at all. Mothers who are first exposed to
more than six months before becoming pregnant are
not likely to pass the infection to their children. Persons with
severely weakened immune systems are at greater risk for severe
toxoplasmosis. In such cases, an infection that occurred anytime
during life can reactivate and cause the severe symptoms of
toxoplasmosis such as damage to the eye or brain.
How can I prevent toxoplasmosis?
infections usually cause no symptoms
or only mild symptoms, your immune system keeps any remaining
parasites in your body from causing further symptoms. Most people
don't need to worry about getting it. However, if you have a
weakened immune system or are pregnant, there are several steps you
should take to prevent toxoplasmosis:
If you have a weakened immune system, get the blood test for
. If your test is positive, your doctor can tell
you if and when you need to take medicine to prevent the infection
from reactivating. If your test is negative, you can take
precautions to avoid infection.
If you are planning on becoming pregnant, you may consider
being tested for
. If the test is positive there
is no need to worry about passing the infection to your baby. If
the test is negative, take necessary precautions to avoid
If you are already pregnant, you and your health care provider
should discuss your risk of toxoplasmosis. Your health care
provider may order a blood sample for testing.
Wear gloves when you garden or do anything outdoors that
involves handling soil. Cats, who may pass the parasite in their
feces, often use gardens and sandboxes as litter boxes.
Wash your hands well with soap and warm water after outdoor
activities, especially before you eat or prepare any food.
Have someone who is healthy and not pregnant handle raw meat
for you. If this is not possible, wear clean latex gloves when you
touch raw meat and wash any cutting boards, sinks, knives, and
other utensils that might have touched the raw meat. Wash your
hands well with soap and warm water afterwards.
Cook all meat thoroughly, that is, until it is no longer pink
in the center or until the juices run clear. Don't sample meat
before it is fully cooked.
Am I able to keep my cat?
Yes, but if you have a weakened immune system or are pregnant
there are some steps to take to avoid being exposed to
. Help prevent your cat from getting infected with
. These tips can help:
Keep cats indoors and feed them dry or canned cat food. Cats
can become infected by eating or being fed raw or undercooked
Don't bring a new cat into your house that might have been an
outdoor cat or might have been fed raw meat.
Avoid handling stray cats and kittens.
Have someone who is healthy and not pregnant change your cat's
litter box. If this is not possible, wear gloves and clean the
litter box daily (the parasite found in cat feces can only infect
you a few days after being passed). Wash your hands well with soap
and warm water afterwards.
Your vet can answer any other questions you may have regarding
your cat and risk for toxoplasmosis.
Is my cat always able to spread the infection to me?
No. Cats can only spread
in their feces for a
few weeks after they are first infected with the parasite. Like
humans, cats rarely have symptoms when first infected, so most
people don't know if their cat has been exposed to
. There are no good tests available to determine
if your cat is passing
in its feces.
What is the treatment for toxoplasmosis?
Once a diagnosis of toxoplasmosis is confirmed, you and your
health care provider can discuss whether treatment is necessary. In
an otherwise healthy person who is not pregnant, treatment is not
needed. Symptoms will usually go away within a few weeks. For
pregnant women or persons who have weakened immune systems, drugs
are available to treat toxoplasmosis.
Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, August 1999
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a