Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a microscopic parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that lives inside humans and animals. It is particularly common in cats and farm animals. Medical professionals estimate that about 60 million people in the United States could be infected, but either experience no toxoplasmosis symptoms at all, or mistake symptoms for those of another illness. During pregnancy, toxoplasmosis can be dangerous for unborn babies. Toxoplasmosis symptoms can also be dangerous for those with compromised immune systems.
Causes of Toxoplasmosis
Because the Toxoplasma gondii parasite is most common in cats, it’s possible to get toxoplasmosis through contact with cat feces when gardening or cleaning a litter box. People can also be infected by eating contaminated food â€” lamb, pork and venison are most likely to carry the parasite. Unpasteurized dairy products and even water can also become contaminated. Unwashed produce and utensils or cutting boards that aren’t cleaned properly are also dangerous sources. In very rare cases, toxoplasmosis may be acquired through an organ transplant or blood transfusion.
Why do most people show no toxoplasmosis symptoms? Healthy immune systems have built up a resistance to the disease. In cases where toxoplasmosis symptoms are present, however, they will generally fall into three categories.
The first is congenital toxoplasmosis, in which a fetus is infected during pregnancy. Those who acquire the disease in the first trimester are most at risk. Toxoplasmosis symptoms may not be immediately evident and may not be apparent until months or years later, but may include:
- An unusually large or small head
- Bruises or bleeding under the skin
- Enlarged liver or spleen
- Swollen glands.
Babies may also have brain and nervous system abnormalities, leading to problems such as:
- Feeding difficulties
- Hearing loss
- Limp muscle tone
- Mental retardation
Retina damage is another of many common toxoplasmosis symptoms that infected babies may experience.
Healthy individuals are the second group affected by toxoplasmosis. However, these toxoplasmosis symptoms are usually mild or nonexistent. The first symptoms that you’ll notice are swollen glands, along with other flu-like symptoms.
The third category is those with weakened immune systems. In these individuals, toxoplasmosis symptoms can affect the brain or nervous system, often leading to encephalitis (brain swelling). These toxoplasmosis symptoms include:
- Blurred vision
- Lung problems
- Poor coordination
There are various methods of toxoplasmosis treatment, based on the category of illness. Healthy people who catch the disease may need no toxoplasmosis treatment at all, or may only be prescribed medication.
Treating pregnant women will decrease toxoplasmosis symptoms seen in the newborn. Unfortunately, there is still a chance the baby will have some problems. Children born with the disease will most likely require medication as toxoplasmosis treatment for the first year of their lives.
Those with weakened immune systems will likely need to be hospitalized. AIDS patients will probably have to take an anti-toxoplasmosis treatment medication indefinitely.
Centers for Disease Control Staff. (2008). Toxoplasmosis. Retrieved January 31, 2010 from the Centers for Disease Control Web site: http://www.cdc.gov/toxoplasmosis/index.html.
Klein, J. (2008). Infections: Toxoplasmosis. Retrieved January 31, 2010 from the Kids Health Web site: http://kidshealth.org/parent/infections/parasitic/toxoplasmosis.html#.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2009). Toxoplasmosis. Retrieved January 31, 2010 from the Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/toxoplasmosis/DS00510.