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Toxoplasmosis in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 2, 2022.

What is toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by parasites. Healthy children usually do not become ill from this infection. The infection may cause illness in children with a weak immune system. If your child has a weak immune system, toxoplasmosis may damage his or her eyes, brain, or other organs. Babies who are infected before birth are at risk for problems with learning, memory, and movement. They are also at risk for vision and hearing problems.

How is toxoplasmosis spread?

Your child can become infected before birth if his or her mother has toxoplasmosis during pregnancy. Your child may also become infected he or she does any of the following:

  • Has contact with cat bowel movements: Cats shed the parasite in their bowel movements. Cats may shed bowel movements in soil, sand, and a litter box. Your child may swallow the parasite if he or she touches his or her mouth after he or she has touched soil, sand, or a litter box.
  • Eats contaminated food: Fruits and vegetables can become contaminated if they are grown in soil with parasites. Your child may swallow the parasite if he or she eats fruits and vegetables that are not washed or peeled.
  • Eats raw or undercooked meat: Raw or undercooked meat, such as pork, lamb, or venison, may contain parasites. Your child can become infected after he or she eats raw or undercooked meat. Raw or undercooked meat may touch utensils, cutting boards, or dishes. Your child may swallow the parasite if he or she touches these things and then touches his or her mouth.
  • Drinks contaminated water: The parasite can be found in untreated or unfiltered drinking water. Your child may become infected if he or she drinks water that contains the parasite. The parasite may also be found in unpasteurized milk. Your child may become infected if he or she drinks milk that is unpasteurized.
  • Receives a blood transfusion or organ transplant: Rarely, the parasite can enter your child's body through an organ transplant or a blood transfusion.

What increases my child's risk for toxoplasmosis?

  • A mother with toxoplasmosis during pregnancy
  • Conditions that cause a weakened immune system, such as cancer or HIV
  • Medicines that cause a weakened immune system such as steroids

What are the signs and symptoms of toxoplasmosis?

  • Your child may have symptoms at birth if he or she was infected during pregnancy. Instead, your child may not have symptoms until he or she is older. A child that gets toxoplasmosis through food, water, or contact with cat feces will have symptoms at the age of infection.
  • Your child may have symptoms similar to the flu, such as muscle aches or swollen lymph nodes.
  • Toxoplasmosis infection of your child's eyes may cause vision loss, red eyes, or eye swelling. Your child's eyes may point different ways.
  • Toxoplasmosis infection of your child's brain may cause seizures or problems walking. Your child may also have problems with learning and memory.
  • Other symptoms depend on which organs are affected by toxoplasmosis.

How is toxoplasmosis diagnosed and treated?

  • Blood and urine tests are done to check for the germ that causes infection. Healthcare providers will examine your child and check his or her brain function. They will also check your child's eyes. Your child may need a CT scan or ultrasound to check for infection or organ damage.
  • A healthy child may not need treatment. Medicine may be given to children with weak immune systems to treat the infection. Your child may need more than 1 medicine. He or she may need to take medicine for 12 months. Your child may need other treatments. Treatment may depend on what organs are affected by toxoplasmosis.

What can I do to manage my child's symptoms?

  • Give your child plenty of liquids as directed. Liquids can prevent dehydration. Ask how much liquid to give your child each day and which liquids are best for him or her.
  • Have your child rest as directed. Ask your child's healthcare provider when he or she can return to normal activities.

How can I help prevent toxoplasmosis?

Your child may be given medicine to prevent toxoplasmosis if he or she has a weak immune system.

  • Freeze meat for at least 48 hours before you feed it to your child. This helps kill parasites and other harmful bacteria.
  • Cook meat as directed before you feed it to your child.
    • Cook ground meat to 160°F.
    • Cook ground poultry, whole poultry, or cuts of poultry to at least 165°F. Remove the meat from heat. Let it stand for 3 minutes before you feed it to your child.
    • Cook whole cuts of meat other than poultry to at least 145°F. Remove the meat from heat. Let it stand for 3 minutes before you feed it to your child.
  • Peel and wash fruits and vegetables before you feed them to your child. This will help remove any parasites that might be on the food.
  • Wash dishes that have touched raw meat in hot water with soap. This includes cutting boards, utensils, dishes, and serving containers.
  • Give your child filtered or treated water only when you travel. If you and your child travel to countries outside of the US and Europe, make sure the drinking water is safe. If you do not know if the water is safe, you and your child should drink bottled water only.
  • Keep litter boxes covered and out of your child's reach. This will decrease his or her contact with cat bowel movements. Tell your older child to wash his or her hands after he or she cleans a litter box.
  • Keep sand boxes covered. Cats sometimes have a bowel movement in sand boxes. This can increase your child's risk for toxoplasmosis. Wash your child's hands after he or she plays in the sand box.
  • Have your child wash his or her hands often. He or she should wash after using the bathroom and before preparing or eating food. Have your child use soap and water. Show him or her how to rub soapy hands together, lacing the fingers. Wash the front and back of the hands, and in between the fingers. The fingers of one hand can scrub under the fingernails of the other hand. Teach your child to wash for at least 20 seconds. Use a timer, or sing a song that is at least 20 seconds. An example is the happy birthday song 2 times. Have your child rinse with warm, running water for several seconds. Then dry with a clean towel or paper towel. Your older child can use hand sanitizer with alcohol if soap and water are not available.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • Your child has trouble breathing or has chest pain.
  • Your child has a seizure.
  • Your child cannot be woken.
  • Your child loses consciousness.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child's eyes or skin are yellow.
  • Your child is weak, confused, and has trouble thinking.
  • Your child has trouble walking or moving.
  • Your child has a severe headache.
  • Your child has severe abdominal pain and his or her abdomen is larger than usual.

When should I call my child's doctor?

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child has a rash.
  • Your child has nausea or is vomiting.
  • The lymph nodes in your child's neck, groin, or armpits feel hard and swollen.
  • Your child tells you that he or she has changes in his or her vision or has blurry vision.
  • Your child's eyes are sensitive to light.
  • The white part of your child's eye is red.
  • Your child does not meet development milestones at the age that he or she should.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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