Toxoplasmosis (say: tox-oh-plaz-moh-sis) is an infection caused by a tiny parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. It lives in the intestines of animals such as cats and pigs.
Most people have no symptoms because their immune system keeps the parasite from causing illness. Sometimes people who have toxoplasmosis experience flu-like symptoms, such as:
In people who have a weak immune system, toxoplasmosis can cause serious medical problems, such as:
Your immune system can become weak for a number of reasons. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection leading to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) can weaken the immune system. So can some kinds of cancer chemotherapy or medicines that are taken after an organ transplant.
If you become infected while pregnant, your unborn child may also become infected. Infected babies may not develop any disease, or they may become very ill, with serious damage to the brain and eyes.
If you have been infected previously (at least 6 to 9 months before your pregnancy) with toxoplasma, you will develop immunity to it. The infection will not be active when you become pregnant, and so there is rarely a risk to your baby.
You can get toxoplasmosis in the following ways:
People who have an organ transplant or a blood transfusion can also get toxoplasmosis if the organ or blood were infected. However, this rarely happens.
Routine screening for toxoplasmosis is not recommended. However, if you are at risk for toxoplasmosis because you have a weak immune system, your doctor might want you to have a blood test.
Toxoplasmosis is usually treated with antibiotics.
The following are some things you can do to protect yourself from getting toxoplasmosis:
Yes. If your immune system is weak, here are some things you can do to keep from getting toxoplasmosis:
Cats only spread toxoplasmosis in their droppings for a few weeks in their lives (usually after they are first infected), so there is no benefit to having your cat's droppings tested for the toxoplasmosis parasite.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff