The Symptoms, Causes, and Prevention of Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease caused when a person comes into contact with one of the world’s most common parasites – Toxoplasma gondii. Infection generally happens when the person eats undercooked food containing this parasite, is exposed to infected cat feces, or is born to an already infected mother who transmits the parasite during pregnancy.

The symptoms of Toxoplasmosis often resemble those of the flu, when they actually show themselves, that is. In most cases, the problem does not reveal itself in any way. Infants born to infected mothers and immunocompromised people are the ones that get hit hardest.

If you are ever diagnosed with this condition while remaining generally healthy otherwise, provided you are not pregnant, conservative management is usually the only treatment required. Pregnancy, on the other hand, complicates the matter, as does lowered immunity. If you have either of those things to manage, then severe complications can only be avoided by extensive medical management, advisably at a free women’s clinic close to where you live. That said, prevention is always the best option.

Symptoms

The majority of healthy people to contract toxoplasmosis exhibit no signs or symptoms of the condition, or at least none they can tell when going through everyday life. Others show signs similar to people with the flu, including the following.

  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Body aches
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue

Symptoms in Immunocompromised People

For a person with a condition that consistently weakens their immune responses, such as HIV/AIDS, or the effects of chemotherapy or an organ transplant, there is a higher chance of any previous toxoplasma infection reactivating. If this happens, some severe symptoms such as the following can manifest.

  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Seizures
  • Poor coordination
  • Lung problems similar to those in tuberculosis patients
  • Blurred vision resulting from severe retinal inflammation

Symptoms in Babies

If a mother is initially infected before or during pregnancy, her child can inherit the infection from her as congenital toxoplasmosis. This can happen even if the mother never displayed any signs of the infection.

Babies face more risk of getting infected with toxoplasmosis if the mother contracts the condition in her third trimester. It is common for earlier infections to result in miscarriage or stillbirth. Infants that survive tend to carry serious issues such as the following.

  • Seizures
  • Enlarged spleen and liver
  • Yellowing of the eye whites and skin (jaundice)
  • Severe eye infections

Only a small portion of babies infected with toxoplasmosis exhibit signs of the condition when they are born. In relatively rare instances, you see signs like hearing loss, serious eye infections, or mental disability that lasts until the teen years, or even later.

Seeing a Doctor

If you have HIV/AIDS, are pregnant, or are planning to be, make sure to have your doctor check whether you are carrying toxoplasmosis. If you have a condition and it is severe, the signs you will generally notice are confusion, blurred vision, low coordination, etc. Each of these demands immediate medical attention, especially if you also have low immunity.

Causes

  1. Gondii, a monocellular parasite, is responsible for toxoplasmosis. It can infect almost all birds and animals but spreads mainly through cat feces. You cannot technically catch an infection from an infected person, but can contract it in one of the following ways.
  • Coming into contact with infected cat feces: There is the possibility of accidentally ingesting this parasite by simply touching your mouth after gardening. Alternatively, it could happen when you clean out a litter box, or touch just about anything that has been in contact with infected cat feces. T. gondii is mostly found in cats that hunt, and ones that are frequently fed raw meat.
  • Consuming contaminated water or food: Pork, lamb, and venison have a high chance of getting infected. Unpasteurized dairy products too can harbor this parasite. In the US, water does not usually get contaminated this way.
  • Consuming unwashed vegetables and fruits: Fruits and vegetables can carry this parasite on their surfaces, and not washing them before eating can expose you to infection. For this reason, proper washing and peeling is a good idea, particularly if you are planning to eat the thing raw.
  • Getting transfused blood or an organ transplant from an infected person: This happens very rarely, but there is always the possibility that this infection might spread this way.

The best way to prevent toxoplasmosis is by making sure you do not come into contact with any contaminated material. To that end, it is advisable to wear gloves when handling soil in your garden, cooking your meat well before eating, thoroughly washing kitchen utensils and fruits and vegetables, avoiding unpasteurized milk, and covering up children’s sandboxes. Consult with the healthcare provider at your nearest women’s free clinic for more information about the infection and to learn how to prevent it.