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What is Toxoplasmosis?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 17, 2024
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Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a parasite. In America, more than 60 million people are infected with the disease. Many of the people who are infected are not aware they have this single-celled parasite, as they may not show any symptoms. Also, the human body’s immune system keeps the toxoplasmosis parasite from causing any symptoms or illness.

Toxoplasmosis can be contracted a few different ways. One of the main ways to become infected is through cat feces. If you were unknowingly to swallow cat feces, you may become infected with the parasite. This can happen in a number of ways. If you touch your mouth with your hands after cleaning a cat’s litter box, you may become infected. Anything that has come into contact with cat feces is a potential risk.

Another way to become infected with the parasite is by eating uncooked meat. Meat that is raw or has not been cooked long enough is another potential risk. You may place your hands to your mouth unknowingly after handling raw meat. This is enough to transfer the toxoplasmosis parasite into the body. Meats that are a particularly risk include venison, pork and lamb.

You can also contract toxoplasmosis by drinking contaminated water. On rare occasions, contaminated blood may be given in a blood transfusion. Cases of infected organs that have been transplanted have also been recorded, although this is rare.

The symptoms of toxoplasmosis are varied. Some people may have the parasite without being aware of it. Others may feel unwell with flu like symptoms. Swollen and aching muscles may also occur and last for around a month.

People with weak immune systems can suffer from severe symptoms of toxoplasmosis. These can include damage to certain organs, including the brain and eyes. Damage to the eyes from toxoplasmosis can occur even in people with the healthiest of immune systems.

Some people are more likely to be infected with the parasite than others. Infants can be infected while still forming in the womb. This happens if the mother becomes infected before or during the pregnancy. People who already have infections that weaken their immune systems, such as AIDS or HIV, are very susceptible to toxoplasmosis.

If you think you may be infected with toxoplasmosis or are showing any of the symptoms, contact a doctor immediately. Blood tests that are specifically designed to show the parasite will be administered. There are medications available, but most are designed for pregnant women. If you are not pregnant and are healthy, the symptoms of toxoplasmosis should disappear within a month.

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Discussion Comments

By rugbygirl — On Apr 27, 2012

@Jennythelib - Does your mother know how she picked it up? Did you maybe have an indoor-outdoor cat? My understanding is that cats who stay strictly inside very rarely contract toxoplasmosis, because cats get it from eating raw meat - i.e., birds and rodents and other things much more likely to be found outside.

My grandmother had a nasty bout with toxo as an adult, when her kids were little - perhaps she was just very run down, as she had no particular reason to have a compromised immune system. Like yours, hers attacked the eye. In fact, she was left legally blind in one eye. She's managed quite well over the years. What I can't figure out is how she gets her eye makeup on!

By jennythelib — On Apr 26, 2012

I have this disease congenitally! It can result in a very sick baby, but my toxoplasmosis symptoms are so mild that no one even knew I had it until I was a teenager.

In my case, like in some others, it affects my eye. Unfortunately, the parasites like to settle down near the center of one's vision, meaning that I see floaters and my vision in that eye is generally a little blurry. I also have an astigmatism that they think may have been caused by the scarring.

Something interesting about toxo is that it is not a bacterium; it's a protozoa. Bacteria do not have cell nuclei, while toxo does - it is similar to malaria in that way. In fact, one of the medicines used to treat my flare-ups (there is no cure for congenital toxo) is also used to treat malaria!

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