What Is Toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite (toxoplasma gondii). You can find it in the intestines of some animals, including cats and pigs.

The infection can cause cysts to form in your body, usually in your brain and muscles, including your heart. But if your immune system is healthy, it isn’t likely to cause you any trouble. You can have toxoplasmosis without knowing it.

It’s more likely to cause problems in people whose immune systems aren’t at full strength because of a health problem like HIV, or some types of cancer or cancer treatments. It also can be harmful to babies as they develop in the womb -- a pregnant woman can pass it to her baby. It can cause issues with the brain or eyes.

You might come into contact with the parasite if you:

  • Clean out a cat’s litter box
  • Drink water that has the parasite in it
  • Eat raw or under-cooked meat
  • Use utensils that have touched raw meat

You also could be exposed to it if you’re an organ donor or have had a blood transfusion.

Symptoms

Signs of toxoplasmosis can feel a lot like the flu. They include:

  • Headaches
  • Body aches
  • Fever
  • Feeling more tired than usual

If your immune system isn’t working like it should because of another health problem, you also may have more serious symptoms, such as:

Diagnosis

If you have signs of toxoplasmosis, see your doctor. You also might want to talk with him about it if you want to get pregnant or you have a health problem that affects your immune system.

If you have the infection, your body will make things called antibodies to try to fight it off. To find out if you have toxoplasmosis, your doctor can do a blood test to see if you have those antibodies in your system.

If you’ve been infected recently, your body may not have had time to make them. So even if your test doesn’t show any signs of them, your doctor may want to do another test a few weeks later to be sure.

If the blood test shows you do have the antibodies, you’re likely in for another test. The CDC recommends that a lab that specializes in toxoplasmosis test your blood sample again to make sure the result is correct. If so, more tests can be done on your blood to find out when the infection started.

Continued

Positive Result If You’re Pregnant

If you find out you have toxoplasmosis while you’re pregnant, your doctor will want to see if it has passed to your baby. She may recommend one of these:

Ultrasound: This uses sound waves to make images of the baby. It can show if fluid has built up in the brain, among other signs.

Amniocentesis: Your doctor will use a long, thin needle to take a small bit of fluid from the area around the baby (the amniotic sac). The fluid will be tested for signs of the infection. You’ll need to be at least 15 weeks along before this test is done.

Treatment

Toxoplasmosis doesn’t cause problems for most people, so you probably won’t need treatment for it if your immune system is healthy. If you have HIV or AIDS, your doctor may recommend the antibiotic sulfadiazine, along with a medication usually used to treat malaria. It’s called pyrimethamine (Daraprim).

For a pregnant woman whose baby hasn’t been affected, the doctor might prescribe an antibiotic called spiramycin. It’s used to treat toxoplasmosis in Europe but is still being tested in the United States.

If your baby is also infected or is likely to be, the doctor may recommend sulfadiazine and pyrimethamine, but only after the 16th week of pregnancy. Your doctor will watch the baby closely for signs of problems.

Can Toxoplasmosis Be Prevented?

You can do a few things to keep from coming into contact with the parasite:

  • Wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly after working outdoors or in a garden.
  • If you have a sandbox, keep it covered to keep cats out of it.
  • Thoroughly clean your hands, counters, cutting boards, utensils, and dishes with warm water and soap after preparing raw meat.
  • Make sure food is cooked well, fruit and vegetables are thoroughly washed, and any water you drink has been treated.
  • Avoid drinks that include things like unpasteurized goat’s milk and raw eggs.

If you have a cat, here are few tips to make sure you and your family are safe around your feline friend:

  • Keep your cat indoors so it doesn’t pick up the parasite.
  • Do your best to keep your cat off counters where food is prepared.
  • Feed your cat only dry or canned cat food -- cats can get it from raw or undercooked meat.
  • Don’t touch stray cats or kittens.
  • Only people who are healthy and aren’t pregnant should clean the litter box.
  • Wear gloves when you clean the litter box, and wash your hands with soap and warm water.
  • Boil the litter scoop in water for 5 minutes after each cleaning.
  • Clean the litter box every day.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on May 01, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

FamilyDoctor.org: “Toxoplasmosis.”

Mayo Clinic: “Diseases and Conditions: Toxoplasmosis,” “Tests and Diagnosis,” “Treatments and Drugs.”

© 2017 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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