Toxoplasmosis Answer Sheet

by Tyson Beazley

ToxoplasmosisDo you have a cat? Are you pregnant? Do you have to find a new home for your kitty?

No, but you have a reason to have someone else clean the litter pan. It's a yucky task anyway.

But all kidding aside, toxoplasmosis is nothing to joke about.

You can contract it other ways, too. Toxoplasmosis can be found in soil, undercooked meats and contaminated fruits and vegetables.

What is Toxoplasmosis?

A single-celled parasite called Toxoplasma gondii causes a disease known as toxoplasmosis. While the parasite is found throughout the world, more than 60 million people in the United States may be infected with the Toxoplasma parasite.

Of those who are infected, very few have symptoms because a healthy person's immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness. However, pregnant women and individuals who have compromised immune systems should be cautious; for them, a Toxoplasma infection could cause serious health problems.

How Do People Get Toxoplasmosis?

A Toxoplasma infection occurs by:

• Accidentally swallowing cat feces from a Toxoplasma-infected cat that is shedding the organism in its feces. This might happen if you were to accidentally touch your hands to your mouth after gardening, cleaning a cat's litter box, or touching anything that has come into contact with cat feces. Eating contaminated raw or partly cooked meat, especially pork, lamb, or venison; by touching your hands to your mouth after handling undercooked meat.

• Contaminating food with knives, utensils, cutting boards and other foods that have had contact with raw meat.

• Drinking water contaminated with the parasite.

• Receiving an infected organ transplant or blood transfusion, though this is rare.

What are the Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis?

Symptoms of the infection vary.

• Most people who become infected with Toxoplasma are not aware of it.

• Some people who have toxoplasma 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 Toxoplasma infection or one that had occurred earlier in life and is now reactivated. Severe cases are more likely in individuals who have weak immune systems, though occasionally, even persons with healthy immune systems may experience eye damage from toxoplasmosis.

• Symptoms of ocular toxoplasmosis can include reduced vision, blurred vision, pain (often with bright light), redness of the eye, and sometimes tearing. Ophthalmologists sometimes prescribe medicine to treat active disease. Whether or not medication is recommended depends on the size of the eye lesion, the location, and the characteristics of the lesion (acute active, versus chronic not progressing). An Ophthalmologists may provide the best care for ocular toxoplasmosis.

• Most infants who are infected while still in the womb have no symptoms at birth, but they may develop symptoms later in life. A small percentage of infected newborns have serious eye or brain damage at birth.

Who's at Risk?

People who are most likely to develop severe toxoplasmosis include:

• Infants born to mothers who became infected with Toxoplasma for the first time during or just before pregnancy.

• Persons with severely weakened immune systems, such as individuals with HIV/AIDS, those taking certain types of chemotherapy, and those who have recently received an organ transplant.

What Should I Do If I think I am at Risk?

If you are planning to become pregnant, your health care provider may test you for Toxoplasma. If the test is positive it means you have already been infected sometime in your life. There usually is little need to worry about passing the infection to your baby. If the test is negative, take necessary precautions to avoid infection (See below).