Toxoplasmosis

What is Toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis, or toxo, is a type of infection that arise due to a unicellular parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. This infection is typically acquired when one is in close proximity to cats or their faeces or when one consumes raw or uncooked meat. 

The U.S Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that more than 60 million individuals in the United States are likely to carry the parasite causing this infection, Toxoplasma gondii. However, only a few will display its symptoms due to a healthy immune system which will keep one being afflicted with  the illness.

toxo

  •  Causes of Toxoplasmosis
  • Risk Factors of Toxoplasmosis
  • Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis
  • Toxoplasmosis in Babies
  • Diagnosis of Toxoplasmosis
  • Prevention of Toxoplasmosis
  • Treatment for Toxoplasmosis
  • Cats
  • Prognosis for Toxoplasmosis
  • Conclusion

Causes of Toxoplasmosis

The parasite, Toxoplamosis gondii,  can be acquired by a few ways that will result in toxoplasmosis:

  • When in contact with cat or their faeces.
  • Consuming food that is raw or undercooked.
  • Drinking raw milk from a goat that is infected with the parasite. This can occur as goats are said to be intermediate host for this parasite.
  • Blood transfusion or organ transplantation from a person that has toxoplasmosis.

 Risk Factors of Toxoplasmosis

There are several situations that can make an individual vulnerable to acquiring toxoplasmosis. The following situations outline some of the risk factors:-

  • Touching your mouth with your hands after cleaning cat’s litter, gardening or any other situations where one may come into contact with cat’s faeces.
  • Consuming food that is raw or undercooked, particularly pork, lamb or venison.
  • Usage of kitchen utensils or others that have not been thoroughly cleaned after they have been in contact with raw meat.
  • Consuming goat milk that is considered raw.
  • Touching your mouth with your hands after handling raw or undercooked meat.
  • An individual who has had organ transplantation or blood transfusion.

It is important to note that, a pregnant woman infected with toxoplasmosis can transmit the parasite to the baby. This can result in dreadful complications.

Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis

Many individuals afflicted with this infection are not conscious of having it. Having mentioned that, the symptoms of toxo are flu like which include lymph nodes that are swollen, muscle aches and pains which may last from a few days to a couple of weeks. If you have a proper active immune system you may not be afflicted with this infection again during your lifetime.

A number of people will show symptoms of toxo. This is mainly due to the immune system which limits the parasite from causing any illness. Nevertheless, an individual who possess a compromised immune system  is at  considerable risk for being afflicted with serious consequences of toxo. These people include ones with immune system disorders, HIV, AIDS, patients undergoing chemotherapy as well as patients who were subjected to an organ transplant. It is important to understand that these patients are at risk of attaining the infection again which will cause serious problems of toxo. Problems include considerable damage to the eye, brain or other related organs. Ocular toxoplasmosis is a type of toxo that causes  damage to the eyes like blurred vision, reduction in vision, pain (mostly in brightly lit areas), eye redness and tearing (information provided by CDC).

Toxoplasmosis in Babies

Congenital toxoplasmosis is a condition where the foetus is infected with the parasite. The immune system of foetuses are not fully developed. The baby has a fully mature immune system only after birth. Thus, pregnant women who were exposed to this parasite in the first few months or during their pregnancy  is at high risk of attaining this infection.

The Organisation of Tetralogy Specialists have reported that the foetus has a 20% chance of getting the infection if the mother if affected with toxo. Furthermore, when the pregnant woman contracts the parasite causing this infection in the first trimester, the foetus has a 10%-15% chance of getting infected too. Statistics of toxoplasmosis have shown that in the United States alone, 4,000 babies are born with this infection in a year. Additionally, women who get infected 6 months prior to pregnancy are not likely to transmit the parasite to the unborn child.

Newborn babies show no symptoms of the infection. However, a small percentage of the babies infected are born with brain damage or congenital eye damage. Regrettably, the signs and symptoms pertaining to the infection appear only a few months after birth. Certain signs of toxo like jaundice, skin rash and lymph node enlargement may be seen at birth.

Babies who are born with this infection can exhibit:-

  • Mental retardation
  • Convulsions
  • Spasticity
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Deafness
  • Impaired vision
  • Microcephaly- abnormally small sized head
  • Hydrocephalus- abnormally large sized head due to high pressure on the brain.

Diagnosis of Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is diagnosed through a blood test. The blood test will indicate the presence or absence of the parasite in the blood, Toxoplasma gondii. The results will also help the doctor assess the patient’s condition. For instance, it will indicate whether the patient contracted the parasite recently, also known as acute, or not.

Prevention of Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis generally cause mild symptoms and at times no symptoms at all.  A healthy and a fully developed immune system eradicates the parasite causing the infection from the body; therefore most people should not worry about attaining this type of infection. No vaccine for toxoplasmosis is available at the moment.

Nonetheless, if you are suffering from any type of condition affecting the efficiency of the immune system or if you are pregnant the following steps should be taken to prevent  getting toxoplasmosis:

  • If your immune system is compromised; get a blood test. The results will indicate if you have the  infection or not. If you are positive for the toxoplasmosis parasite, your doctor will proceed with necessary medication to prevent getting the infection again.
  • Women who plan to get pregnant can consider being tested for this parasite.
  • A pregnant woman should discuss the risks of being infected with toxo with her doctor. The doctor may ask for a blood test.
  • One must wear gloves and other necessary protective clothing when gardening or doing outdoor activities that involve handling soil. Cats use sandboxes as litter boxes which may increase the risk of contracting toxo. One should wash his or her hands with warm water and soap after such activities. It is very important to adhere to such practices before eating and before preparing food.
  • People who are at risk should allow someone else to handle  raw food. If no one is available to do this task on your behalf, you may wear latex gloves and wash with hot water and soap the cutting boards, sinks, knives and other kitchen utensils that was in contact with raw meat. After the task is completed, wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water.
  • Meat should be cooked thoroughly.

Treatment for Toxoplasmosis 

When your diagnosed with toxoplasmosis it is important to discuss with your doctor the necessary steps to be undertaken henceforth. One such issue is to determine whether treatment is necessary at this stage. In healthy individuals who are not pregnant, treatment is not needed. Symptoms that arise will generally disappear in a couple of weeks. However, individuals with weak immune systems and pregnant women are usually treated with drugs  which will treat the parasite causing the infection. Patients who have HIV require lifelong treatment to keep the parasite from causing adverse effects.

Cats

Taking cats to be your pets doesn’t cause any serious issue unless you are having immune system disorders or if your pregnant. Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine has stated that there are several steps that can be undertaken to prevent the infection from arising.

Primarily, as a preventative step you can protect your cat from being exposed to the toxo parasite. Keeping cats indoors and feeding them dry or canned food are few of such preventative steps. It is important to understand that cats can be easily be exposed or infected by the parasite when it consumes raw and undercooked meat that contains the parasite. It can also be infected when eating rodents and birds that carries the toxo parasite. However, if your cat cannot be kept indoors and has a tendency to roam about the neighbourhood; make sure to keep the cat off beds, pillows and other types of furniture around the house that you may use. Additionally, when bringing a new cat into your household don’t bring one that has been an outdoor cat or one that has been fed raw meat as it may carry the parasite. Stray cats and kittens should be avoided and not taken into your home. You can also test your cat and check for the parasite. You can discuss with your vet any other questions you may have about cats and toxoplasmosis and discuss preventative care to be taken in order to avoid being infected.

Video of Toxoplasmosis

Video of Toxoplasmosis

Importantly, if you are having immune disorders or if you are expecting, allow someone else who do not fall into either of these categories to change your cat’s litter box. However, if this is not possible for you, wear latex gloves and clean the litter box on a daily basis as the parasite which will be in the infected cat’s faeces requires a couple of days after being excreted to become infectious.  After performing this task, wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap.

Another important question to address is if the infected cat will most definitely spread the infection to its keeper. The answer is no. Cats will only transmit toxoplasmosis after a few weeks after being infected with the parasite. Your cat will not show any signs or symptoms of toxo when first infected which is the case in humans too. As a result, most individuals owning a cat do not know that the cat is indeed infected as their cat will appear healthy with no apparent symptoms. In addition, there are no accurate tests available to detect the parasite in cat’s faeces. 

Prognosis for Toxoplasmosis 

Majority of people (around 80% to 90%) who get afflicted with this infection will not have serious adverse long term effects. Prognosis of a foetus or infant that is infected with this parasite is quite variable and solely depends on how severe the infection is. The prognosis is worse for foetus which gets infected at an early stage. When a pregnant woman carries a foetus that is quite severely infected she may undergo a miscarriage. Newborns can also be born with problems related to their mental or physical well being. Additionally, patients with weakened immune systems also have a variable prognosis which solely depends on how well they respond to treatment. HIV patients and other patients with permanent immune system disorders will have to adhere to treatment plans for life.

Conclusion

Toxoplasmosis, or toxo, is a type of infection that arise due to a unicellular parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. This infection is typically acquired when one is in close proximity to cats or their faeces or when one consumes raw or uncooked meat. The parasite, Toxoplamosis gondii,  can be acquired by a few ways that will result in toxoplasmosis: when in contact with cat or their faeces, consuming food that is raw or undercooked etc. It is important to note that, a pregnant woman infected with toxoplasmosis can transmit the parasite to the baby. This can result in dreadful complications. The symptoms of toxo are flu like which include lymph nodes that are swollen, muscle aches and pains which may last from a few days to a couple of weeks. Congenital toxoplasmosis is a condition where the foetus is infected with the parasite. Toxoplasmosis is diagnosed through a blood test.

We will be expanding on this important topic in future articles. While I recommend you to register to download an e-book: “Adult Prevention Guide” for better health, a FREE

 

 

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The Team Manager Web Diseases

 

 

 

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