Toxoplasmosis often causes flu-like symptoms, although it can lead to more serious complications such as encephalitis and developmental impairments.
Pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems are at a higher risk of developing serious health complications with toxoplasmosis.
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Here are some key points about toxoplasmosis. More detail and supporting information can be found in the main article.
- More than 60 million Americans may harbor a toxoplasmosis infection
- The people with the highest risk of developing a severe infection include pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals
- While most individuals affected by toxoplasmosis remain asymptomatic, some may develop flu-like symptoms
- Seizures and encephalitis are more commonly experienced by people with weakened immune systems - in particular, people living with HIV and AIDS
- If a child has congenital toxoplasmosis, they can develop hearing loss, mental disabilities and blindness as a result.
Causes of toxoplasmosis
Toxoplasmosis can be contracted congenitally and through contact with cat feces.
Contracting an infection with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite can occur in the following ways:
- Consuming undercooked or contaminated foods
- Consuming foods prepared with contaminated knives, utensils or cutting boards
- Oral exposure to infected cat feces through cleaning a litter box, gardening, touching or ingesting something that has been exposed to infected cat feces
- Mother-to-child transmission (congenital)
- Consuming unwashed fruits and vegetables
- Drinking contaminated water
- Not washing hands properly after handling undercooked, contaminated meat
- In rare circumstances, receiving an infected organ or blood.
Everyone is at risk of contracting toxoplasmosis. However, those at the highest risk for contracting toxoplasmosis and developing a severe infection include pregnant women and those who may be immunocompromised; this includes people with AIDS, organ transplant recipients and people receiving chemotherapy or immunosuppressive medications.
Symptoms of toxoplasmosis
While most affected individuals are not symptomatic, some may develop flu-like symptoms such as:
People with compromised immune systems may be more susceptible to complications of toxoplasmosis.
These symptoms may be present for a month or longer.
Those who are immunocompromised, such as people with HIV or AIDS, chemotherapy patients and organ transplant recipients, may experience the re-activation of a prior infection with the parasite. They may also develop symptoms such as headache, confusion, poor coordination, seizures, lung infections and blurry vision caused by ocular toxoplasmosis.
Ocular toxoplasmosis can occur in anyone with toxoplasmosis and may exhibit eye symptoms such as a decrease in vision, blurry vision, redness, pain - especially when exposed to bright light - and tearing.
Congenital transmission of the parasite occurs when a woman is infected during pregnancy. Although many infections that occur early in pregnancy result in pregnancy loss, babies who are born with the parasite typically experience seizures, spleen and liver enlargement, jaundice and severe eye infections.
Most often, babies are not symptomatic at birth. Many go on to develop symptoms of toxoplasmosis, however, such as hearing loss, mental disabilities or eye infections.
Complications of toxoplasmosis
The complications of developing a toxoplasmosis infection depend on your age and health status.
Healthy individuals: typically, healthy individuals with healthy immune systems do not suffer any long-term health consequences. Some may experience eye infections, however. Blindness can occur in untreated eye infections.
Immunocompromised individuals: seizures and encephalitis are more commonly experienced in individuals with weakened immune systems such as people living with HIV or AIDS.
Children: if a child has congenital toxoplasmosis, they can develop complications such as hearing loss, mental disabilities and blindness as a result of this parasitic infection.
On the next page, we look at the tests and diagnosis of toxoplasmosis and the available treatment options for the condition.