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Toxoplasmosis

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Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection that is usually acquired by coming in contact with cats and their feces. Let us learn more about toxoplasmosis from the following article.

What is Toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii.This protozoan is a primary host of the felid family (cats). Humans get infected with toxoplasmosis by coming in contact with infected cats and their feces. Apart from cats, humans also get infected by ingesting infected meat such as lamb, contaminated fruits and vegetables and from an infected mother to her fetus.

Once infected, the parasite can lead to flu-like illness or no symptoms after initial infection. However, people with weak immune system, such as pregnant women and those with AIDS can develop a serious infection.

Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis

In most cases, toxoplasmosis has no symptoms. The infected person does not even realize having an infection. Symptoms, if any, include those similar to glandular fever or flu. Sometimes, it may be accompanied by swollen lymph nodes. Once a person is infected, they are thought to develop a lifelong immunity to the parasite.

Toxoplasmosis can lead to serious complications in people with compromised immune system. These people include children, people with HIV/AIDS, those on chemotherapy and those who have recently undergone organ transplants.

Toxoplamosis can lead to encephalitis and necrotizing retinochoroiditis (eye damage). One may even develop swollen lymph nodes under the neck, chin, armpit and groin. In some cases, severe infection can lead to headaches, confusion, poor coordination, seizures, lung problems, blurred vision.

If a pregnant lady gets infected, it leads to multiple risks to the fetus. The child develops congenital toxoplasmosis. The severity of the condition depends on the phase of pregnancy the mother caught an infection.

An infection in the first trimester of pregnancy can affect 4 babies out of 10. The baby suffers from:

  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Convulsions
  • Abnormal head size
  • Fever
  • Jaundice
  • Abnormalities of the retina
  • Mental retardation
  • Brain calcification
  • Hearing loss

Risk to the fetus in 3rd trimester is lowered as by now most of the vital developmental phases have occurred.

How is Toxoplasmosisi Transmitted?

Toxoplasmosis can be transmitted by coming in contact with contaminated food, drink or infected feces. The parasite is present in:

  • Raw or undercooked meat
  • Unwashed fruits and vegetables
  • Cat feces
  • Soil contaminated with cat feces
  • Unpasteurized goat’s milk and milk products

The parasite gains entry into the human body by:

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  • Ingestion of contaminated water and soil with cat feces
  • Ingestion of contaminated raw or undercooked meat
  • Transmission of parasite from infected mother to fetus in womb
  • Tramission of parasites into human body fluids by parasites gaining entry through cuts, eyes, or open sores
  • Inhalation of sporulated occysts

Person to person infection is not possible. It is only possible in case of an infected mother to her unborn child. Also, owning a cat, stroking a cat or playing with a cat does not result in infection. It is transmitted only when one comes in contact with infected feces of the cat.

Diagnosis of Toxoplasmosis

As there are no specific symptoms of toxoplasmosis. The symptoms are similar to other diseases and infections. Thus, the diagnosis is based on many tests and their combined results. These investigations include:

  • Serology tests that check for IgG antibodies
  • Direct detection by polymerase chain reaction (PCR), presence of tachyzoites in body tissues or fluids and tissue culture or biopsy to check for the presence of parasites
  • CT scan or MRI for checking brain lesions, fetal ultrasonography to check for transplacental infection and its related complications, if it is suspected or confirmed that the mother is infected.

Treatment for Toxoplasmosis

In most cases, there is no treatment required for toxoplasmosis. If one develops acute toxoplasmosis, it requires medications such as pyrimethamine orsulfadiazine. Pregnant women may be given spiramycin to prevent the infection being transmitted to their unborn child.

One should avoid handling cat feces if they are pregnant. Avoid cats from walking on kitchen counters. Never feed your cat raw meat. Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly after handling a cat or raw meat. Cook meat well done and avoid eating half cooked meat. Wash your fruits and vegetables properly before eating them. Never drink unpasteurized goat’s milk. This will help prevent transmission of toxoplasmosis.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 05, 2015