is an infection caused by a single-celled parasite named Toxoplasma
gondii. It is found throughout the world. More than 60 million people
in the United States probably are infected with the Toxoplasma
parasite, but very few have symptoms because the immune system usually
keeps the parasite from causing illness.
How can I get
can become infected after accidentally ingesting (swallowing)
infective Toxoplasma eggs from soil or other contaminated
surfaces. This can happen by putting your hands to your mouth after
gardening, cleaning a catís litter box, or by touching anything that
has come into contact with cat feces.
are pregnant when first infected with Toxoplasma, you can pass
infection to your baby.
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.
organ transplantation or transfusion, although these instances are
What are the
symptoms of toxoplasmosis?
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 donít 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, which 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.
How do I know if I
health care provider who will order a blood sample to be taken.
Who is at risk for
born to mothers who are FIRST exposed to Toxoplasma 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 Toxoplasma more than 6 months
before becoming pregnant are not likely to pass the infection to their
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
infections usually cause no symptoms or only mild symptoms, and your
immune system keeps any remaining parasites in your body from causing
further symptoms, most people donít 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.
have a weakened immune system, get the blood test for Toxoplasma.
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.
are planning on becoming pregnant, you may consider being tested for Toxoplasma.
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 infection.
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.
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.
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.
all meat thoroughly, that is, until it is no longer pink in the center
or until the juices run clear. Donít sample meat before it is fully
Am I able to keep
if you have a weakened immune system or are pregnant there are some steps
to take to avoid being exposed to Toxoplasma.
prevent your cat from getting infected with Toxoplasma. Keep
cats indoors and feed them dry or canned cat food. Cats can become
infected by eating or being fed raw or undercooked meat.
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.
Your vet can answer any other questions you may have regarding your
cat and risk for toxoplasmosis.
someone who is healthy and not pregnant change your catís 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
Once infected with
Toxoplasma is my cat always able to spread the infection to me?
can only spread Toxoplasma 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 donít know if their cat has
been exposed to Toxoplasma. There are no good tests available to
determine if your cat is passing Toxoplasma in its feces.
What is the
treatment for toxoplasmosis?
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.
This fact sheet is for
information only and is not meant to be used for self-diagnosis or as a
substitute for consultation with a health care provider. If you have any
questions about the disease described above or think that you may have a
parasitic infection, consult a health care provider.