Toxoplasmosis is infection with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Most people who become infected don't have symptoms. This is because the
immune system is usually able to fight the
Toxoplasmosis is dangerous to a
pregnant woman and her
fetus. For more information, see the topic
Toxoplasmosis During Pregnancy.
What causes toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis can result
Accidentally swallowing Toxoplasma gondii 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 touching anything that has come into contact
with cat feces.
Eating raw or partly cooked meat, especially pork,
lamb, or venison, or touching your hands to your mouth after touching the
If you are pregnant when first infected with
Toxoplasma gondii, you can give the infection to your
You may also receive it through an organ transplantation or
a transfusion, although this is rare.
What are the symptoms?
Most people with
toxoplasmosis don't have symptoms. When symptoms are present, they are often
flu-like and may include swollen
lymph glands or muscle aches and pains that last for a
few days to several weeks.
Severe toxoplasmosis results in damage to the eyes or
the brain. Infants who became infected before birth may be born with serious
mental or physical problems.
A person with an immune system weakened by
HIV infection, organ transplant medicines, or
lymphoma can develop life-threatening toxoplasmosis.
Severe symptoms vary depending on which part of the body is affected.
If the infection is in the:
symptoms include seizures, sensory changes, weakness, changes in behavior or
mental state, and problems with movement.
symptoms include eye pain and gradual vision loss in one or both
Lungs (pneumonia), symptoms include fever and
chills, breathing problems and a cough that can cause chest wall pain, fatigue,
Because there are
typically no symptoms, it is hard to know whether you are infected. If you
think that you may have toxoplasmosis, talk to your doctor. He or
she may do specific blood tests for toxoplasmosis.
If you have an impaired immune system, get
the blood test for Toxoplasma gondii. If your test is
positive, it means that you have been infected at some time in your life. 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 have not
been infected, and you can take precautions to avoid infection.
you are planning to become pregnant, consider being tested for Toxoplasma gondii. If the test is positive, it means you have
already been infected at some time in your life and you probably don't have to
worry about passing the infection to your future baby (discuss this with your
doctor). If the test is negative, take precautions to
If you are pregnant, you and your doctor should discuss your risk of toxoplasmosis. Your doctor may order a blood sample for testing.
How is it treated?
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 people who have weakened
immune systems, medicines are available to treat toxoplasmosis. For more
information, see the topic Toxoplasmosis During Pregnancy.
How can I prevent toxoplasmosis?
toxoplasmosis usually has no symptoms or only mild symptoms, most people don't
need to worry about getting it. But if you have a weakened immune system
or are pregnant, you should take steps to prevent toxoplasmosis.
Wear gloves when you garden or do anything
outdoors that involves handling soil. Cats may pass the parasite in their feces
and 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 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 foods until they are well done.
Use a meat thermometer to be sure foods are cooked to a safe temperature. Do
not use the color of the meat (such as when it is no longer "pink") to tell you
that it is done.
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. Wash your hands well with soap and warm water
What can you tell me about my cat and toxoplasmosis?
Cats only spread Toxoplasma gondii in their feces
for a few weeks after they are first infected with the parasite. They rarely
have symptoms when first infected, so most people don't know whether their cat
has been exposed to Toxoplasma gondii. Good tests are
not available to determine whether your cat is passing Toxoplasma gondii in its feces.
healthy people should not worry about their cat and Toxoplasma gondii. But if you have an impaired immune system or are
Help prevent your cat from getting infected
with Toxoplasma gondii. Keep the cat indoors, and feed
it dry or canned cat food. Cats can become infected by eating or being fed raw
or undercooked meat.
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.
Your veterinarian can answer other questions you may have
about your cat and the risk for toxoplasmosis.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.