Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on May 2, 2022.
What is toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by parasites. Healthy adults usually do not become ill from this infection. The infection may cause illness in adults with a weak immune system. If you have a weak immune system, toxoplasmosis may damage your eyes, brain, or other organs. Women who are infected during pregnancy are at risk for miscarriage, preterm labor, and having a baby with birth defects.
How is toxoplasmosis spread?
You can become infected if you do any of the following:
- Have contact with cat bowel movements: Cats shed the parasite in their bowel movements. Cats may shed bowel movements in soil, sand, or a litter box. You may swallow the parasites if you touch your mouth after you touch soil, sand, or a litter box.
- Eat contaminated food: Fruits and vegetables can become contaminated if they are grown in soil with parasites. You may swallow the parasite if you eat fruits and vegetables that are not washed or peeled.
- Eat raw or undercooked meat: Raw or undercooked meat, such as pork, lamb, or venison, may contain parasites. You can become infected with toxoplasmosis after you eat raw or undercooked meat. Raw or undercooked meat may touch utensils, cutting boards, or dishes. You may swallow the parasite if you touch these things and then touch your mouth.
- Drink contaminated water: The parasite can be found in untreated or unfiltered drinking water. You may become infected if you drink water that contains the parasite. The parasite may also be found in unpasteurized milk. You may become infected if you drink milk that is unpasteurized.
- Receive a blood transfusion or organ transplant: Rarely, toxoplasmosis is spread from person to person through an organ transplant or a blood transfusion.
What increases my risk for toxoplasmosis?
- A mother with toxoplasmosis during pregnancy
- Recent organ transplant
- A condition that weakens the immune system, such as cancer or HIV
- A medicine that weakens the immune system, such as a steroid
What are the signs and symptoms of toxoplasmosis?
Most people do not have signs and symptoms of toxoplasmosis. Some people may have symptoms similar to the flu, such as fever, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches or swollen lymph nodes. Toxoplasmosis infection of your eyes may cause blurry vision, red eyes, or pain when you look at light. Toxoplasmosis infection of your brain may cause a headache, confusion, trouble moving, or a seizure. Other symptoms may depend on which organs are affected.
How is toxoplasmosis diagnosed and treated?
- Your healthcare provider will examine you. He or she may check your eyes and how well your brain is working. A blood test can check for the germ that causes toxoplasmosis. If you are pregnant, fluid may be taken from the amniotic sac (fluid that surrounds the baby). The fluid can be tested for the parasite. If you have toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, you and your baby will be closely monitored.
- Healthy adults who are not pregnant may not need treatment. If you are pregnant or have a weak immune system, you may be given medicine to treat the infection.
How can I manage my symptoms?
- Drink plenty of liquids as directed. Liquids can prevent dehydration. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
- Rest as directed. Ask your healthcare provider when you can return to your normal activities.
How can I help prevent toxoplasmosis?
You may be given medicine to prevent toxoplasmosis if you have a weak immune system.
- Freeze meat for at least 48 hours before you cook it. This helps kill parasites and other harmful bacteria.
- Cook meat as directed.
- 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 eat it.
- 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 eat it.
- Do not eat raw or undercooked oysters, clams, or mussels. These foods may be contaminated and cause infection.
- Peel and wash fruits and vegetables before you eat them. Parasites from the soil can get onto fruits and vegetables.
- Wash dishes that have touched raw meat with hot water and soap. This includes cutting boards, utensils, dishes, and serving containers.
- Drink filtered or treated water only. If you travel to countries outside of the US and Europe, make sure your drinking water is safe. If you do not know if the water is safe, drink bottled water only.
The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.
What do I need to know about caring for cats?
Cats and kittens can carry the parasites that causes toxoplasmosis. Do the following to prevent getting toxoplasmosis from cats:
- Clean your cat's litter box every day. Wear disposable gloves when possible. Remove your cat's bowel movements. Wash your hands with soap and warm water after you clean the litter box.
- Keep your cat indoors. This will decrease the risk that your cat will eat something infected with parasites. Feed your cat dry or canned food instead of raw or undercooked meat. Do not let stray cats or kittens into your home.
- Wear gloves when you garden or touch soil or sand. Cats sometimes have a bowel movement in these places. Keep outdoor sandboxes covered.
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water after you garden or touch soil or sand. Wash your hands several times each day. Wash after you use the bathroom, change a child's diaper, and before you prepare or eat food. Use soap and water every time. Rub your soapy hands together, lacing your fingers. Wash the front and back of your hands, and in between your fingers. Use the fingers of one hand to scrub under the fingernails of the other hand. Wash for at least 20 seconds. Rinse with warm, running water for several seconds. Then dry your hands with a clean towel or paper towel. Use hand sanitizer that contains alcohol if soap and water are not available. Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without washing your hands first.
What else can I do to prevent toxoplasmosis if I am pregnant?
You should do all of the above to prevent toxoplasmosis. You should also do the following:
- Do not clean your cat's litter box. Ask a friend or family member to clean it for you. If someone cannot help you, wear disposable gloves when you clean the litter box. Wash your hands with soap and warm water after you change it.
- Do not handle kittens or stray cats. These animals are usually infected with parasites.
Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:
- You have trouble breathing or have chest pain.
- You have a seizure.
- You cannot be woken.
- You lose consciousness.
When should I seek immediate care?
- Your eyes or skin are yellow.
- You feel weak, confused, and have trouble thinking.
- You have a severe headache.
- You have severe abdominal pain and your abdomen is larger than usual.
- You have trouble walking or moving any part of your body.
When should I call my doctor?
- You have a fever.
- You have nausea or are vomiting.
- The lymph nodes in your neck, groin, or under your arms feel hard and swollen.
- You have changes in your vision or blurry vision.
- Your eyes are sensitive to light.
- The white part of your eye is red.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
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