Toxoplasmosis is an infectious diseases caused by Toxoplasma gondii (parasite). This disease is very often acquired from infected cats by their physical contact or contact with their feces or by consuming uncooked/improperly cooked meat. It can be easily acquired by people who have weakened immune system. Pregnant women can transmit the infection to her fetus causing complications. It is estimated that more than 60 million people of the USA are carrying this infection. It is easier to prevent toxoplasmosis than treating it.
Risk Factors :
The following are the main risk factors for getting infected with toxoplasmosis.
• Not washing the hands properly after cleaning the cat’s fecal particles or cleaning the litter box of your cat.
• Unknowingly touching your mouth with fingers without washing the hands properly after gardening.
• Eating uncooked or improperly cooked raw meat of pork or lamb.
• Using the same utensils that are used for cooking meat without proper cleaning.
• Drinking the milk of goat without boiling.
• If you have weakened immunity or have undergone organ transplant recently.
• If you are taking treatment for HIV/AIDS infection or undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.
• If you are taking medications like corticosteroids for prolonged period (this will weaken your immunity).
• If you have received blood from multiple donors recently.
Some people may not have any symptoms while others may have mild to moderate symptoms. Some of the common signs of toxoplasmosis are swollen lymph nodes, body-aches, headache, and flu like symptoms like fever, extreme tiredness, and sore throat. For people with weakened immune system and those who have had organ transplantation recently can acquire serious symptoms like confusion, headache, poor concentration, lung infections, blurred vision and seizures.
Pregnant women have more chances of passing the infection to their babies in case they are getting infected for first time with toxo. Expecting moms who are infected with toxoplasmosis in their final trimester have increased risk of passing it on their fetus. The child born with infected toxo can have complications like enlarged liver, seizures, serious eye infections and jaundice or liver infection. There is chance for the child to display the symptoms later during their teenage and not immediately after birth.
Complications in Babies :
Toxoplasmosis inherited from the mother can seriously affect the immune system of the child weakening it. If the pregnant women gets infected with toxo during her first trimester the chances of passing the infection to the fetus is 10-15%. But pregnant women infected with this parasite during her third trimester have 25-30% chance of infecting the child.
Most of the newborns infected with toxoplasmosis will not show any obvious symptoms until few months. It can damage the child’s eyesight, brain cells, liver and skin depending on the intensity of infection. In rare cases, children inheriting this infection can have seizures, brain related disorders, mental retardation, loss of hearing and impaired vision.
The parasite Toxoplasma gondii is the root cause for toxoplasmosis. The parasite can enter into the human body through different sources like physical contact with infected cats, eating uncooked meat or raw meat, drinking raw milk without boiling and undergoing organ transplant recently. Cats are the animals in which the parasite stays as a host and gets into the human body when the person touches the feces of cats. However the person’s immune system plays a key role in getting infected with this disease. It will affect the person with weakened immunity caused by sudden illness or intake of medications.
The parasite that causes toxoplasmosis cannot be detected by routine screening tests or blood tests. Your doctor may order for testing and retesting many times for confirming that you are showing negative results for toxoplasmosis. A positive test result shows that you have been infected with this parasite at some point of your life or you now have an active infection.
Pregnant women should definitely conduct tests for their babies. Amniocentesis procedure is adopted in which some amniotic fluid from the uterus is collected through a tiny needle for checking for toxoplasmosis. Ultrasound scanning may also be done for determining the symptoms of being infected by the baby. For people with infectious diseases like encephalitis imaging tests like MRI, CT scan and brain biopsy are done for checking the presence of any lesions in the brain.
For mild or no symptoms no treatment is required for toxoplasmosis. Your doctor will decide the course of treatment based on your symptoms. Medical treatment is required for pregnant women or people with weak immunity. Very often healthy people do not need any type of medication even if they are infected with the parasite. Sulfadiazine, pyrimethamine and folinic acid are prescribed. Pyrimethamine is used for treating malarial infection also. It is also used in combination with sulfadiazine for effectively controlling the infection.
For people with severe infectious diseases like HIV folic acid is also to be taken along with pyrimethamine and sulfadiazine. For most people it is vital to take medications for lifelong if they carry this parasite. Antibiotics like spiramycin are given for pregnant women if they are infected with this disease. In case if the baby shows positive result for toxoplasmosis treatment will be given only after birth.
You need to have a healthy immune system for preventing this disease. No vaccine has been discovered so far for toxoplasmosis. Pregnant women with weakened immunity should get their blood tested for toxoplasmosis. Women who are planning to get pregnant should also take precautions and you can always discuss the risk of getting this infection with your doctor.
Always make sure that you are not walking barefoot in the garden and wear proper gloves while handling soil. (more particularly when you have pets like cats in your house) Wash your hands properly before eating food and the same rule applies to washing utensils while cooking meat. Never eat raw meat or uncooked meat of lamb or pork since it may carry toxoplasmosis parasite.
You need to wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly in case you are planning to eat them raw. The parasite can be present in dairy products like milk and hence don’t drink milk without boiling it. In case you have cats keep them indoors and check their health regularly. In case you have plans for adopting stray cats get them tested twice for parasite infection. Take safety precautions while cleaning the litter box of cats.